The importance of the PM’s ethanol push
On World Environment Day (June 5), Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the target of 20% ethanol blended petrol has been advanced by five years to 2025. Ethanol is ethyl alcohol that is made from molasses, grains, and farm waste. The ethanol-blending programme is one of the seven key drivers identified by PM Modi for India’s energy map — gas-based economy; cleaner use of fossil fuels; greater reliance on biofuels; achieving the renewables’ target of 450 GW by 2030; increasing contribution of electricity to decarbonise mobility; moving into emerging fuels such as hydrogen; and digital innovation across all energy systems.
There are several reasons why this push for ethanol is important. One, India, one of the top greenhouse gas emitters, plans to reduce its carbon footprint from the 2005 levels by 33-35% by 2030. Increased ethanol blending with fossil fuels will help reduce pollution. Two, it will also help lower the crude oil import bill. Three, ethanol procurement will help sugarcane and grain farmers. Four, it could open up new business and generate employment. And five, it could lead to introduction of flex-fuel engines (that can run on more than one fuel and a mixture) in the country in the near future.
However, environmentalists worry that the increased target for ethanol blending could incentivise water-intensive crops such as sugarcane and rice, and suggest that the government should focus on lower-water intensity crops such as millets. This caveat is critical since India is already facing an acute water shortage. It is important to strike a right balance between the two needs, for the economy and also the environment.