Ethanol Blending in Petrol


    In News

    • Recently, the Prime Minister of India announced that India has achieved its target of blending 10% sugarcane-extracted ethanol in petrol, ahead of schedule. 


    • Addressing the nation from the Red Fort on the 76th Independence Day, Prime Minister rooted for energy independence, Aatmanirbhar (self-sufficient) in the energy sector. 
    • India is one of the world’s biggest oil importing nations.

    Image Courtesy: TH 

    Ethanol Blending

    • Definition: 
      • Blending ethanol with petrol to burn less fossil fuel while running vehicles is called ethanol blending. 
    • Distilleries: 
      • Sugar cane would likely continue to be the primary source for ethanol even with the 12 planned farm waste — or 2G ethanol — distilleries. 
      • The first, inaugurated in Aug 2022, has a capacity to produce 100 kilo litres a day, or 3.65 crore litres a year. 
      • Amount of Ethanol needed to reach the target:
        • The 2021 Ethanol Roadmap forecasts that an additional 800 crore litres of ethanol is needed annually to meet the target. 
        • Assuming the other 11 planned farm waste distilleries have similar rates of production, their combined input would barely produce 5% of the additional annual ethanol requirement.
    • Ethanol:
      • It is an agricultural by-product which is mainly obtained from the processing of sugar from sugarcane, but also from other sources such as rice husk or maize. 
      • Ethanol is an organic chemical compound.
      • It is simple alcohol with the chemical formula C2H6O. 
      • It is a volatile, flammable, colourless liquid with a characteristic wine-like odour and pungent taste.
      • Ethanol can be produced from crops that have high starch content like sugarcane, maize, wheat, etc.
      • In India, ethanol is mainly produced from sugarcane molasses by the fermentation process.
      • Ethanol can be mixed with gasoline to form different blends.
    • Current usage and target achieved: 
      • Currently, 10% of the petrol that powers the vehicle is ethanol. 
      • Though India has had an E10 — or 10% ethanol as policy for a while, it is only this year that we have achieved that proportion. 
    • New target: 
      • India’s aim is to increase this ratio to 20% originally by 2030 but in 2021, when NITI Aayog put out the ethanol roadmap, that deadline was advanced to 2025.
    • Benefit: 
      • Ethanol blending will help bring down our share of oil imports (almost 85%) on which we spend a considerable amount of precious foreign exchange. 
      • More ethanol output would help increase farmers’ incomes.
      • As the ethanol molecule contains oxygen, it allows the engine to better combust the fuel.
      • It results in fewer emissions and thereby reduces the occurrence of environmental pollution.
      • Ethanol burns completely emitting nil carbon dioxide
      • By using the left-over residue from rice harvests to make ethanol, stubble burning will also reduce
      • It will reduce greenhouse gasses equivalent to about three lakh tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum, which is the same as replacing almost 63,000 cars annually on our roads.
      • Since ethanol is produced from plants that harness the power of the sun, ethanol is also considered a renewable fuel.
    • NITI Aayog Report, June 2021:
      • India’s net import of petroleum was 185 million tonnes at a cost of $55 billion in 2020-21. 
      • A successful ethanol blending programme can save the country $4 billion per annum. 
    • Automobile Industry’s Progress: 
      • Issues/Challenges: 
        • Compliance: 
          • The industry had committed to the government to make all vehicles E20 material compliant by 2023. 
          • This meant that the petrol points, plastics, rubber, steel and other components in vehicles would need to be compliant to hold/store fuel that is 20% ethanol. 
          • Without such a change, rusting is an obvious impediment.
        • More studies: 
          • Optimisation of engines for higher ethanol blends and the conduct of durability studies on engines and field trials before introducing E20 compliant vehicles.
        • Storage: 
          • It is going to be the main concern, for if E10 supply has to continue in tandem with E20 supply, storage would have to be separate which then raises costs.
      • Commitment: 
        • The industry has committed to becoming E20 engine compliant by 2025, which means that engines would need to be tweaked so as to process petrol which has been blended with 20% ethanol.
      • Alternatives for them: 
        • They prefer the use of biofuels as the next step, compared to other options such as electric vehicles (EV), hydrogen power and compressed natural gas. 
        • This is mainly because biofuels demand the least incremental investment for manufacturers. 

    First and Second Generations Ethanol

    • 1st generation biodiesel:
      • They are produced from crops directly from the fields, such as cereals, maize, sugar beet and cane, and rapeseed. In Europe rapeseed oil is primarily used for biodiesel.
      • With an aim to augment ethanol supplies, the government has allowed procurement of ethanol produced from other sources besides molasses — which is first generation ethanol or 1G.
    • 2nd generation biodiesel:
      • They are produced from residual and waste products from, for example, industry and households. Large quantities of used frying oil and slaughterhouse waste are also used.
      • Other than molasses, ethanol can be extracted from materials such as rice straw, wheat straw, corn cobs, corn stover, bagasse, bamboo and woody biomass, which are second generation ethanol sources or 2G.

    Global Scenario

    • Though the U.S., China, Canada and Brazil all have ethanol blending programmes.
    • As a developing country, Brazil stands out. It had legislated that the ethanol content in petrol should be in the 18-27.5% range, and it finally touched the 27% target in 2021.

    Objections in Transition

    • It does not reduce the emission of another key pollutant — nitrous oxide.
    • The inefficient land use in ethanol production. 
    • The water needed to grow crops for ethanol is another debating point. For India, sugarcane is the cheapest source of ethanol. But supply may still be a problem. The abnormally wet monsoon seasons may have helped in recent years to raise grain output, but these production increases are not sustainable.
    • Impact on crop output meant for food and fodder:
      • There are already indications that more sugarcane is being grown and that the Government of India encouraged more corn production at the India Maize Summit in May, with its use for ethanol production cited as a reason for this push. 
      • Sugar and cane production that end up in the petrol tank cannot also appear on the dinner plate, in animal fodder, be stored in warehouses, or be exported. 
      • As was evident in India’s wheat harvest earlier this year, climate change-induced heatwaves are a worrying factor and can lead to lower-than-expected harvests with little notice.
      • Maintaining balance will be problematic: Given the uncertainty about future production, India may not find it easy to simultaneously strengthen domestic food supply systems, set aside adequate stocks for lean years, maintain an export market for grains, and divert grain to ethanol at the expected rate in coming years, and this is an issue that warrants continued monitoring.

    Way Ahead

    • The Automotive industry is bound to make some changes to comply with India’s promise for net-zero emissions by 2070.
    • Auto industry should talk with the government to plan this transition. There are multiple issues at stake for this endeavour. 
    • The land can be used far more efficiently by generating renewable power for EV batteries. 
    • There should be a move toward waste-based extraction, such as through coarse grains.
    • Global corn, or maize, production is down, and this adds an incentive for India to try and export more. In France, the corn harvest has dipped 19%, and reductions in forecast production have been seen for at least seven other countries in Europe. U.S. production expectations have also been revised slightly downward. India can benefit from all this.

    Source: TH