It was 50 years ago, in 1973, that a war broke out between Arab countries and Israel. Saudi Arabia, along with other Western nations, supported by the United States, imposed an oil supply embargo on Israel. This led to a global oil crisis, causing instability in the oil markets worldwide. During this time, Brazil made a significant decision to shift from using petrol and diesel to utilizing ethanol as an alternative fuel. Today, Brazil stands as a self-reliant nation in the realm of oil, having transformed its oil sector completely.
We are narrating the story of ethanol and Brazil because today, the ‘Toyota Camry,’ which runs entirely on ethanol, is being introduced in India. Ethanol fuel has a unique characteristic – it doesn’t come from oil wells but is derived from farmers’ fields. Central Minister Gadkari claims that in the near future, due to ethanol, the price of petrol could be brought down to ₹15 per liter.
Ethanol is a type of alcohol that can be produced from sources such as sugarcane, corn, sorghum, beet, and various agricultural residues like corn cobs and wheat straw. It’s primarily derived from starch and sugars present in these raw materials. Ethanol is used as a biofuel, often blended with petrol, and has three main generations:
1st Generation Ethanol: Produced from primary agricultural crops like sugarcane, beet, corn, and sorghum.
2nd Generation Ethanol: Made from cellulose and lignocellulosic materials like corn stover, wheat straw, wood biomass, and other non-edible plant parts.
3rd Generation Biofuels: This includes biofuels derived from algae, like seaweed. Ongoing research and development are being carried out in this area.
Ethanol has gained attention as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels, and its production can have significant impacts on agricultural economies and energy sustainability.
In 2021-22, India imported 86% of its fuel requirements, highlighting its energy dependence. To reduce this reliance, the Indian government initiated the E20 plan, aiming to blend 20% ethanol in petrol, currently in progress. This move not only decreases oil imports but also generates annual savings of over ₹33,000 crore in the government’s treasury.
With the E20 initiative, India aims to achieve successful implementation across the country by 2025-26. Petroleum Minister Hardeep Singh Puri stated on July 11, 2023, that E20 petrol is currently available at 1,350 petrol pumps and is expected to be accessible nationwide by 2025.
Is there enough surplus grain available in the country for ethanol production? According to former Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Siraj Hussain, the focus is primarily on utilizing surplus cereals like rice, wheat, and maize to meet the demand for ethanol in the country. By assessing the impact of weather changes on crop yields and enhancing production through modern technology, if we manage to increase the yield of these surplus grains, then there is a potential source for ethanol production in the country.
- Corn is crucial for ethanol production. Increasing its yield is essential. The Indian Sugar Mills Association states that only in Maharashtra, there was a 1.6 million-ton decrease in sorghum production in 2021-22. To enhance ethanol production, improving sorghum yield is imperative.
- While India’s maize production might not be enough for ethanol production alone, there’s potential. Utilizing various sources and improving yields can contribute.
- Speaking about sorghum, the government’s focus should first be on satisfying people’s hunger. India annually exports 20 million metric tons of sorghum. If curbing exports and producing 15 million metric tons for local consumption is considered, it can yield around 1.27 billion liters of ethanol.
E20 flex fuel, a blend of 20% ethanol and 80% gasoline, will be used in various vehicle models. This is feasible due to the transition of engines from BS-4 to BS-6, where newer models can accommodate petrol blended with ethanol.
The government has provided guidelines to engine manufacturers for producing engines compatible with E20 petrol under the ethanol blending program.
Although older vehicles could potentially use E20, there might be concerns about reduced mileage and power due to engine differences between older BS-4 and newer BS-6 engines. Retrofitting older engines might require significant modifications, especially for very old vehicles that might need to be scrapped due to the new emission norms.
Energy expert Narendrakumar Tanuja highlights that the E20 scheme involves blending only ethanol into petrol, which can potentially reduce the cost by around ₹3.50 per liter. However, the impact on fuel prices will depend on the oil companies. The affordability of flex fuel vehicles stems from the fact that flex fuel is cheaper for two reasons: the lower cost of ethanol and the fact that it can be blended with regular petrol.
Overall, introducing E20 flex fuel offers benefits such as reduced dependence on imported fuel and the potential for cost savings, but it’s crucial to ensure compatibility with different vehicle models and address potential concerns with older vehicles.
- The price of ethanol is lower compared to petroleum products, making it natural for the price to decrease when 20% ethanol is blended into one liter of petrol.
- Ethanol attracts lower taxes compared to petrol, contributing to the cost-effectiveness of flex fuel.
Narendrakumar Tanuja mentions that blending 85% ethanol (E85) in one liter of petrol is not currently feasible in India. Presently, ethanol blending is limited to petrol only, and there are projects exploring ethanol blending with diesel. However, the E20 scheme would require a significant increase in ethanol production.
In the present scenario, achieving a level of ethanol blending similar to Brazil’s use of E85 is challenging in India. Brazil has a smaller population and less industrialization than India. Fuel consumption is lower there, and the availability of land and climate is suitable for growing sugarcane, a primary source of ethanol. This scenario is not replicable with India’s population and land utilization.
Currently, there are two primary benefits of E20 in India. First, it would reduce the need for importing expensive oil from other countries. Second, the use of biofuels, like flex fuel, would lead to reduced environmental pollution.
It’s essential to consider the practical implications and unique conditions of each country when evaluating the feasibility of implementing extensive ethanol blending programs like Brazil’s E85 in India.