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[RSTV ARCHIVE] Ethanol Blending: Significance & Road Ahead

The Central Government has resolved to meet the target of 20 percent ethanol blending in petrol by 2025. This will help India strengthen its energy security, enable local enterprises and farmers to participate in the energy economy and reduce vehicular emissions.

In this article we shall discuss and analyze all aspects of this issue.

What is Ethanol Blending?

  • An ethanol blend is defined as a blended motor fuel containing ethyl alcohol that is at least 99% pure, derived from agricultural products, and blended exclusively with petrol (gasoline).
  • Ethanol, anhydrous ethyl alcohol having a chemical formula of C2H5OH, can be produced from sugarcane, maize, wheat, etc. which are having high starch content.
  • In India, ethanol is mainly produced from sugarcane molasses by the fermentation process. Ethanol can be mixed with the gasoline to form different blends.
  • As the ethanol molecule contains oxygen, it allows the engine to more completely combust the fuel, resulting in fewer emissions and thereby reducing the occurrence of environmental pollution.
  • Since ethanol is produced from plants that harness the power of the sun, ethanol is also considered a renewable fuel.

Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Programme

  • Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) programme was launched in January, 2003 for supply of 5% ethanol blended Petrol.
  • The programme sought to promote the use of alternative and environment friendly fuels and to reduce import dependency for energy requirements.
  • OMCs are advised to continue according priority of ethanol from 1) sugarcane juice/sugar/sugar syrup, 2) B-heavy molasses 3) C-heavy molasses and 4) damaged food grains/other sources.
  • At present, this programme has been extended to whole of India except UTs of Andaman Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands with effect from 01st April, 2019 wherein OMCs sell petrol blended with ethanol up to 10%.

Ethanol blending in India

  • Ethanol now is blended 10% to petrol, which started with 5% when the EBP was launched
  • Last year 173 crore liters of petrol was blended with ethanol.

Why need 20% blending?

Mixing 20 percent ethanol in petrol holds multiple attractions for India.

  • First, it can potentially reduce the auto fuel import bill by a yearly $4 billion, or Rs 30,000 crore.
  • Second, it also provides for farmers to earn extra income if they grow to produce that helps in ethanol production.
  • Third, and no less important, is the fact that ethanol is less polluting than other fuels and, per the NITI Aayog paper, “offers equivalent efficiency at a lower cost than petrol”.

What is needed to meet the blending target?

  • Till 2014 an average of only 1.5 percent ethanol could be blended in India, that proportion has now reached about 8.5 percent.
  • So, while in 2013-14, about 38 crore liters of ethanol were purchased in the country, that figure now stands at more than 320 crore liters.
  • A majority of the ethanol units are concentrated in 4 to 5 states where sugar production is high but food grain-based distilleries are now being set up across India.
  • There have been efforts to make ethanol from agricultural waste.

Response from automobile sector

  • All automobile materials produced after 2009 are compatible with 10% ethanol. However they are not compatible with E20 (20 percent ethanol blend with petrol).
  • The NITI Aayog paper said that two-wheelers and passenger vehicles that are now being made in the country “are designed optimally for E5 while rubber and plastic components are “compatible with E10 fuel”.
  • The industry body the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) has guaranteed that “once a road-map for making E10 and E20 available in the country is notified… they would gear up to supply compatible vehicles in line with the roadmap”.
  • All the components required can be made available in the country” and that “no significant change in the assembly line is expected”.

Why is 20% blending a significant decision?

  • Ethanol blending will also, to a large extent, solve the problem of agricultural waste as well as sugar rates plummeting due to excess production, therefore providing security to sugarcane farmers.
  • It can help accomplish dual goal of strengthening energy security with low carbon emission.
  • It will enable local enterprises and farmers to participate in the energy economy.
  • Reducing import bill is another significant benefit. India imports 85% of crude oil.
  • Ethanol blending increases octane number thereby increasing fuel quality in terms of anti-knocking tendency (engine sound)

Hurdles in implementation

  • In the previous fiscal, 87 per cent of ethanol used for India’s ethanol blending program was produced using sugar.
  • The price of ethanol production in India ranges from $0.63 – $0.87 a litre, significantly higher than the US and Brazil where it is about $ 0.61 per litre.
  • The procurement of ethanol by OMCs is governed by an administered pricing mechanism that fixes prices every year based on the raw material used.
  • This fixing of the price of raw materials for production had led to India producing ethanol at prices higher than other countries.
  • The report also highlighted the excessive use of water — estimated at 2,860 litres — for the production of one litre of ethanol from sugar.

Hence there is a need to move to more environmentally sustainable crops.

Way forward

  • For attaining E100 i.e. cent percent clean mobility, ambitious ethanol blending program is a must.
  • Emphasis should be laid on alternative of ethanol. Methanol with some modifications can also be used for blending.
  • Major source of producing ethanol is sugarcane which is a water intensive crop. Hence we need more sustainable sources to produce Ethanol.

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Rakesh Mehrotra
Rakesh Mehrotra
2 months ago

What is clearly forgotten is that ethanol production is very environmentally unfriendly with high energy consumption for distillation & produces very obnoxious effluents. It may save foreign exchange but its cost of production is higher, calorific value lower & production process highly damaging to environment. The recommendation for blending ignores LCA with respect to GHG emissions, energy input/ output & pollution from spent wash.