Biofuels are closely associated with living material. They are different from the traditional first-generation biofuels obtained from long-dead organic matter. Such fuels are also called fossil fuels. Biofuels produced from various types of non-food biomass are referred to as second-generation biofuels. The term biomass in this context means plant materials and animal waste that are used explicitly as a source of fuel. Attempts are being made to tap the bioenergy in food and non-food biomass. The controversy of food scarcity surrounding food-based biofuel manufacture has slowed its progress.
The trend of biofuel research is now shifting to non-food energy crops like Arundo, Big bluestem, Camelina, Chinese tallow, Duckweed, Jatropha curcas, Pongamia pinnata, Miscanthus giganteus, Switchgrass, Salicornia, and Wood fuel. In India, patent 230856 for “a process of extracting jatropha curcas oil for use in diesel engines” was granted in 2009. In addition, the old concept of taping the bioenergy from natural algae microalgae is gaining ground. To be more precise, it is the work of Harder and Von Witsch, who were the first to propose that microalgae could be grown as a source of fuel in 1942.
After the Second World War II, countries like the US, Germany, Japan, England, and Israel started research on culturing techniques and engineering systems for growing microalgae on larger scales, particularly species in the genus Chlorella. However, the interest in using microalgae as a source of biofuel never took off till the oil embargo and oil price surges of the 1970s. In the Eighties, these concerns were further joined by global warming and climate change issues. The search for cost-effective, environment-friendly, and cheaper biofuel continues. New techniques for producing biofuel cells, bio-electric cells, and e-fuels are being developed, and patenting activity in this field is growing even in India.
Patenting trends in the invention of biofuels
Patenting activity in all the generations of biofuel production technology had many ups and downs. A closer look at the global landscape of biofuel patenting shows that after surging between 2004 and 2008, the invention of biofuel technologies slowed considerably and, in many countries, went into decline. We have seen a shifting of focus from 1G (food crops) to 2G (Non-food ) to 3G (non-carbon crops) to 4G (non-carbon /non-nitrogen), 5G (Genetically modified microorganisms).
The global patenting trends point towards a surprising upward swing in low-cost production methods and processes in all generations of biofuels. The higher cost of microalgae cultivation and relatively low oil price caused the loss of interest in algae oil development and production, amounting to the cession of the first wave of biofuel inventing activity in 1995. However, the accumulation of strains and advanced microbiology technologies helped to set the stage for the second wave of biofuel as the crude oil price dramatically increased in the early 21st century.
Biofuel patenting activity in India
Patents on inventions in biofuel production are growing worldwide. They are protected and published in the main innovation countries, like the USA, China, India, and Canada. The first Biocell fuel patent, 227974 in India, was granted in 2009 to The University Of Western Ontario. The patent offices in India recorded 115 published applications on biofuel-related inventions, and around 27 patents in this field have been granted so far. The first Indian patent 198080, granted to the first Indian Biocell fuel patent, 227974 in India, was granted in 2009 to The University Of Western Ontario.
The Indian patent 198080 on ‘Method and apparatus for ‘utilising biofuel or waste material in energy production’ was granted in 2008 To Foster Wheeler Energia Oy. It is interesting to note that the Indian patent 394659 for ‘Biofuel composition and method for preparation thereof’ was granted to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Technological University in a record time of seven months from the date of the First examination report as they opted for the fast track examination system introduced by Indian patent office (FER 09.0.2021 and GD 11.04.22).
Indian patent office has recorded 268 Biodiesel as published patent applications from 2004 to 2023, and 88 Biodiesel related inventions are approved for the grant. For inventions relating to biomass conversion, the Indian Patent Office reported 1228 published applications from 2004 to 2023, and 448 patents in this field have been granted so far.
Interestingly, IIT Guwahati received patent 437189 for a system and method for treating waste biomass and plastics to produce transportable liquid fuel” again in a record time of six months from request for examination. (RQE 09/01/2023 and GD 04/07/2023). Similarly, 2065 patents on inventions relating to biowaste treatment for production were granted. The use of algae to produce biofuel is another emerging area where patenting activity is increasing worldwide.
India’s first biofuel flight on 27 August 2018 was flown by SpiceJet from Dehradun to Delhi. The first biofuel flight of the Indian Air Force on Republic Day, 26 January 2019, flypast on Russian An-32 aircraft demonstrated the capability of advanced biofuel. Shifting trends in patent activity in response to threats of global warming and other environmental challenges are seen. There has been considerable interest in the use of biofuels and the optimisation of biofuel production processes and methods in recent years.
Energy generation inventors worldwide are shifting focus to new production methods and looking for genetically modified organisms with no carbon imprint to meet the world’s fuel requirements. In 2009, the Indian government launched the National Biofuel Policy, identified the seeds of a jatropha species (jatropha curcas) as a source of non-edible oil for biodiesel production and launched a large-scale programme to cultivate Jatropha on fallow/degraded lands and government/community wastelands.
Interestingly, the patent office recorded the publication of 64 applications related to the jatropha plant (including its uses in biodiesel production) with a grant of 19 patents (including extracting biodiesel) relating to this plant from 1998 to 2023. The seeds of Jatropha the plant can be processed into lesser polluting biodiesel. Indian patent office has also taken steps to fast-track examination and grant patents on green technologies.
This clubbed with the Indian government’s new biofuel policy, will for sure propel the filing of patent applications in this field as well. Patenting activity in the biofuel industry will likely surge in the 21st century. Expert advice to fast-track the grant of patents in India would be helpful for inventors looking to commercialise biofuel-related inventions in India. Significantly, last year, the Indian patent office granted a record of 75000 patents, thus ensuring quick grant of patents in India.
Author: DPS Parmar
First Published By: AsiaLaw Here