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Explained: What is ethanol blending and why is it important?

Published on Aug 20, 2022 01:04 PM IST

Ethanol mixing is said to reduce environmental degradation while adding extra income to the pocket of sugar cane farmers. It will help India achieve its dream of self-reliance in the energy sector.

20 percent Ethanol blending reduced carbon monoxide emissions by 50% in two-wheelers and 30% in four-wheelers.(NITI Aayog)
By | Edited by Aryan Prakash

Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red fort on 76th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India has reached the target of 10 per cent sugarcane-extracted Ethanol blending with petrol earlier of its schedule. The target attained in June has motivated the government to advance the target of 20 per cent blending by five years, to accomplish by 2025.

Ethanol mixing is said to reduce environmental degradation while adding extra income to the pocket of farmers. It will help India achieve its dream of self-reliance in the energy sector. Here we chalk down the prominent points about the emerging technology.

What is Ethanol blending ?

Ethanol (also called ethyl alcohol, or alcohol) is a biofuel with chemical formula C2H5OH. It is naturally made by the fermentation of sugar. In India, it is largely derived while extracting sugar from sugarcane. However, other organic matter like food grains can also be used for its production.

The government has launched the Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Programme to mix this biofuel with petrol to reduce the consumption of fossil fuel. The E10 target achievement means that the petrol we use now has 10 percent ethanol mixed in it.

Why is ethanol mixing important ?

India has put forward the audacious goal of considerable cutting in carbon footprint. However, in pursuit of the goal, its dependency on fossil fuel is a major roadblock. According to 2021 data published by NITI Aayog  in report titled ‘Roadmap for Ethanol blending in India 2020-25’, 98 per cent of the fuel requirement in the road transportation sector is currently met by fossil fuels and while only 2% by biofuels.

As ethanol supports complete combustion, the report points out that higher reductions in carbon monoxide emissions were observed with E20 fuel–50% lower in two-wheelers and 30% lower in four-wheelers. Hydrocarbon emissions scaled down by 20%, but nitrous oxide emissions did not show a substantial trend as it depended on the vehicle/engine type and engine operating conditions.

India is highly dependent on other countries to fulfil its energy demand. The report states that of the total oil requirement in the transportation sector, 85 percent need to be imported.

On the other hand, there is a continuous rise in vehicles. The vehicle population in the country is around 22 crore o two and three wheelers and around 3.6 crore four-wheelers, which is estimated to increase at around 8-10% per annum as estimated by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM).

Apart from these, the alternative use-case of sugarcane will help the farmers realise more income on their produce. Also, the surplus and damaged rice procured by the Food Corporation of India can be used to produce ethanol.

Problems in adoption of Ethanol blending fuel

Availability of sufficient raw material sustainably is required. Sugarcane is a water intensive crop, so promoting its cultivation may deplete our groundwater. Research on non-sugarcane derived ethanol needs to be undertaken.

Sugarcane is locally available in only some parts of India, thus the supply chain needs to be strengthened to accomplish the Interstate movement of ethanol.

There is a need for the development of infrastructure to extract ethanol. It requires ethanol compliant dispensing units and additional storage tanks for ethanol at marketing terminals / depots.

There is a requirement of upgrading the vehicle engines to make it compliant with Ethanol blending. Although no significant change is required for 10% mixing, engines and components will need to be tested and calibrated with E20 as fuel.

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