Ethanol blending

  • IASbaba
  • August 18, 2022
  • 0
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Context: Prime Minister 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, PM rooted for energy independence stating that, “we need to be Aatmanirbhar (self-sufficient) in our energy sector”.
  • Self reliance in energy sector has bought the focus back on ethanol blending.

What is ethanol blending?

  • Blending ethanol with petrol to burn less fossil fuel while running vehicles is called ethanol blending.
  • Ethanol 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.
  • Though we have had an E10 — or 10% ethanol as policy for a while, it is only this year that we have achieved that proportion.
  • 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.
  • Ethanol blending will help bring down our share of oil imports on which we spend a considerable amount of precious foreign exchange.
  • Secondly, more ethanol output would help increase farmers’ incomes.
  • The NITI Aayog report of June 2021 says, “India’s net import of petroleum was 185 million tonnes at a cost of $55 billion in 2020-21,” and that a successful ethanol blending programme can save the country $4 billion per annum.

What are first generation and second generation ethanols?

  • Ethanol production from molasses is first generation ethanol or 1G.
  • 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.

How have other countries fared?

  • 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.

Are there other alternatives?

  • Auto industry state that 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.

What have been the objections against this transition?

  • Ethanol burns completely emitting nil carbon dioxide.
  • By using the left-over residue from rice harvests to make ethanol, stubble burning will also reduce.
  • The 2G ethanol project inaugurated recently will reduce greenhouse gases 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.


Efficient Utilization of Land

  • The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in a report in talks about the inefficient land use in ethanol production.
  • The report’s states that we can use land far more efficiently by generating renewable power for EV batteries.
  • For example, to match the annual travel distance of EVs recharged from one hectare generating solar energy, 187 hectares of maize-derived ethanol are required, even when one accounts for the losses from electricity transmission, battery charging and grid storage.

Water intensive crop

  • The water needed to grow crops for ethanol is another debating point.
  • For India, sugarcane is the cheapest source of ethanol.
  • On average, a tonne of sugarcane can produce 100 kg of sugar and 70 litres of ethanol — meaning, a litre of ethanol from sugar requires 2,860 litres of water.
  • There has been, therefore, a move toward waste-based extraction, such as through coarse grains.

Supply of Raw materials

  • The supply of coarse grains may still be a problem.
  • The abnormally wet monsoon seasons may have helped in recent years to raise grain output, but in its August 2021 analysis.
  • The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) is sceptical that those production increases can be sustained.
  • Thus sugar cane would likely continue to be the primary source for ethanol even with the 12 planned farm waste — or 2G ethanol — distilleries.

Food security

  • There are already indications that more sugarcane is being grown and that the Government of India encouraged more corn production, with its use for ethanol production cited as a reason for this push.
  • 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.
  • 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 Forward

Ethanol From Wastes:

  • This would bring both strong climate and air quality benefits, since these wastes are currently often burned, contributing to smog.

Water Crisis:

  • The ethanol policy should ensure that it doesn’t drive farmers toward water-intensive crops and create a water crisis in a country where its shortage is already acute.

Prioritize Crop Production:

  • With our depleting groundwater resources, arable land constraints, erratic monsoons, and dropping crop yields due to climate change, food production must be prioritized over crops for fuel.

Alternative Mechanism:

  • To achieve the key goal, that is emissions reduction, alternative mechanisms-enhanced Electric Vehicles uptake, installation of additional renewable generation capacity to allow zero-emissions recharging, etc.-need to be evaluated.

Must Read: Ethanol Blending: comprehensively covered

Source: The Hindu

Previous Year Question

Q.1) According to India’s National Policy on Biofuels, which of the following can be used as raw materials for the production of biofuels? (2020)

  1. Cassava
  2. Damaged wheat grains
  3. Groundnut seeds
  4. Horse gram
  5. Rotten potatoes
  6. Sugar beet

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

  1. 1, 2, 5 and 6 only
  2. 1, 3, 4 and 6 only
  3. 2, 3, 4 and 5 only
  4. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6


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