Biofuel Policy

How Sensible is it Use Food Grains to Produce Ethanol?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bioethanol, Ethanol blending

Mains level : Read the attached story

India is planning to use surplus rice, besides sugarcane, to meet its biofuel target of blending 20% ethanol with petrol.

Could this impede India’s crop diversification goals or worsen nutritional indicators? Let us see!

Govt’s plan to promote ethanol

  • India is estimated to achieve about 8.5% blending with petrol by this year, which it plans to increase to a mandatory 20% blending by 2025.

Sources for ethanol

The plan is to divert its excess sugar production to produce ethanol, 3.5 million tonnes in 2021-22 and 6 million tonnes the next year, in addition to grains like rice, corn, and barley.

  • Using surplus rice: The government’s food department revealed its plans to divert 17 million tonnes of surplus rice from its food stocks of 90 million tonnes to produce ethanol.
  • Sugarcane: This is in addition to the 2 million tonnes of sugar which is already being diverted to produce ethanol.

How would this benefit the country?

  • Cost saving: A successful biofuels programme can save India $4 billion or about ₹30,000 crore every year by lowering import of petroleum products.
  • Emission cut: Ethanol is also less polluting and offers equivalent efficiency at a lower cost than petrol.
  • Biofuel’s policy boost: Rising production of grains and sugarcane and feasibility of making vehicles compliant to ethanol-blended fuel makes its biofuels policy a strategic requirement.
  • Early rollout: Towards this, govt has put in place interest subsidies for distilleries to expand capacity while auto firms have agreed to make compatible vehicles.

What are the unintended effects of the policy?

  • Unsustainability of cash-crops: Increasing reliance on biofuels can push farmers to grow more water-intensive crops like sugarcane and rice.
  • Huge water requirement: Currently use 70% of the available irrigation water, negating some positive impact on the environment of using more ethanol.
  • Food and nutrition security: The move could impact India’s hunger situation by limiting the coverage of the food security schemes.
  • Food inflation: Diversion of mass consumption grains can also push food prices up.

How will it impact crop diversification?

  • Monotonous crops: Although the biofuels policy stresses on using less water-consuming crops, farmers prefer to grow more sugarcane and rice due to price support schemes.
  • Water stress: Growing more of them can lead to an adverse impact in water-stressed areas in states.

What about food security?

  • It is unethical to use edible grains to produce ethanol in a country where hunger is rampant.
  • India is already a poor performer in Global Hunger Index.
  • Although about 80 crore people are now receiving subsidized food grains, calculations show that over 10 crore eligible households are still excluded.


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