Biofuel Policy

Ethanol Blending Programme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Ethanol-blended petrol and its benefits

Mains level: India's ethanol-blended petrol program, advantages and way forward


What’s the news?

  • The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has recently announced an ambitious plan to achieve 20% ethanol-blended petrol nationwide by 2025.

Central idea

  • India’s ethanol production program has witnessed significant strides in the last five years, with both increased quantities supplied to oil marketing companies (OMCs) and a shift towards diverse raw materials, including rice, damaged grains, maize, and millets. Ethanol, a 99.9% pure alcohol blendable with petrol, has seen a remarkable transformation in its sourcing, production, and utilization.

What is Ethanol?

  • Ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol, is a clear, colorless, and flammable liquid. It is a type of alcohol with the chemical formula C2H5OH.
  • Ethanol is one of the most common types of alcohol and is produced through the fermentation of sugars by yeast or other microorganisms.

Applications of Ethanol

  • Ethanol is a key component in alcoholic beverages
  • Ethanol is now heavily used as a biofuel or an additive to gasoline, creating a blend known as ethanol-blended petrol or gasohol
  • Ethanol is used in various industrial processes, including in the production of solvents, cleaning agents, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and chemicals
  • Its ability to kill bacteria and viruses makes it a valuable ingredient in antiseptics and hand sanitizers
  • Ethanol is utilized in food processing for various purposes, including as a preservative, flavor enhancer, and food-grade solvent

An overview: Evolution of India’s ethanol production

  • Traditional Feedstocks: Until 2017-18, ethanol production in India relied mainly on ‘C-heavy’ molasses, a by-product of sugar production. Sugar mills produced ethanol from molasses with a sugar content of 40-45%, yielding 220–225 liters of ethanol per tonne.
  • Policy Changes: In 2018-19, the Indian government introduced a differential pricing policy to incentivize the use of alternative feedstocks for ethanol production. Higher prices were fixed for ethanol produced from B-heavy molasses and sugarcane juice, compensating mills for reduced sugar production.
  • Feedstocks Diversification: Apart from molasses and sugarcane juice, ethanol production expanded to include rice, damaged grains, maize, jowar (sorghum), and other millets. Ethanol yields from grains were found to be higher than from molasses.
  • Year-Round Production: Leading sugar companies invested in modern distilleries equipped to operate on multiple feedstocks throughout the year. This flexibility allowed distilleries to switch between B-heavy molasses during the crushing season and grains during the off-season, ensuring continuous ethanol production.
  • Increase in Ethanol Blending: The government’s policy and the adoption of diverse feedstocks led to a significant boost in ethanol production and blending with petrol. The all-India average blending of ethanol with petrol increased from 1.6% in 2013-14 to 11.75% in 2022-23.
  • Environmental Sustainability: Distilleries implemented modern techniques like the multi-effect evaporator (MEE) units to treat liquid effluents (spent wash), reducing pollution.
  • Promoting Green Energy: The evolution of ethanol production in India aligns with the country’s goal of reducing reliance on fossil fuels and promoting renewable and green energy sources

Advantages of India’s ethanol production program

  • Ethanol production reduces India’s reliance on imported fossil fuels, enhancing the country’s energy security and reducing vulnerability to fluctuating global oil prices.
  • Blending ethanol with petrol lowers carbon emissions. This helps combat climate change and improve air quality.
  • Ethanol production from various feedstocks supports agricultural diversification and provides additional income sources for farmers, benefiting the rural economy.
  • The program utilizes agricultural byproducts and residues to produce ethanol, promoting efficient resource utilization and reducing waste.
  • The ethanol production program creates job opportunities in rural areas, particularly near sugar mills and distilleries, contributing to rural economic growth.
  • Ethanol production aligns with India’s renewable energy goals, contributing to the country’s commitment to sustainable development.

Byproducts of ethanol production

  • Spent Wash:
  • During alcohol production, liquid effluent known as spent wash is generated. Spent wash is a byproduct that can pose serious environmental problems if discharged without proper treatment.
  • It contains residual sugars and other substances from the fermentation process, making it a high-strength organic wastewater.
  • DDGS (Distillers’ Dried Grain with Solubles):
  • DDGS is a byproduct of grain-based distilleries.
  • After the liquid from the spent wash is separated, the remaining solid material undergoes a drying process, resulting in distillers’ dried grain with solubles (DDGS).

How byproducts of ethanol production can be beneficial?

  • Concentrating the spent wash reduces its volume, and using it as a boiler fuel along with bagasse offers a sustainable energy source, minimizing the need for fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The ash resulting from the incineration of the concentrated spent wash contains up to 28% potash. This potash can be used as fertilizer, promoting soil health and supporting agricultural sustainability.
  • Byproduct utilization in the form of DDGS as animal feed optimizes resource utilization and minimizes waste.
  • The conversion of spent wash and wet cake into useful products reduces waste generation.
  • The byproduct utilization exemplifies the principles of a circular economy where waste is minimized, and resources are recycled and reused.

Way forward

  • India should continue to diversify its feedstocks for ethanol production, including cane molasses, direct sugarcane juice, rice, damaged grains, maize, jowar, bajra, and other millets.
  • States like Uttar Pradesh, a major sugarcane grower, can contribute significantly to ethanol production from cane and molasses, while Bihar, known for maize cultivation, can play a crucial role in utilizing maize for ethanol.
  • Emphasize research to optimize the conversion of maize and other grains into ethanol, reducing the process duration and enhancing overall productivity.
  • Build new distilleries and upgrade existing ones
  • Provide stable and long-term policy support, including differential pricing, tax incentives, and mandates for ethanol blending with petrol, tailored to the specific characteristics of different feedstocks.
  • Gradually increase the blending percentage of ethanol with petrol
  • Explore opportunities for international collaboration in ethanol production and blending


  • The move towards a 20% ethanol-blended petrol by 2025 demonstrates the nation’s commitment to energy independence and a greener future. By leveraging multiple feedstocks and adopting sustainable practices, the ethanol industry can continue to play a vital role in India’s journey towards a cleaner and more self-reliant energy landscape.

Also read:

Global Biofuel Alliance can power India’s energy transition drive, but must have time-bound targets


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