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Ethanol Blending Programme in India

Ethanol Blending Programme in India

In 2001, India started trials for 5% ethanol blended petrol at select outlets. It became official in January 2003 across nine states and four union territories. Now, 5% ethanol blend is standard nationwide. The government aims for 20% ethanol blending by 2025 instead of 2030, showing their commitment to sustainability. They plan to introduce E10 fuel by April 2022, followed by phased E20 rollout from April 2023 to April 2025.

Ethanol Blending Programme


  • Ethanol is gaining significant attention in 21st Century India.
  • Mixing 20 percent ethanol with petrol offers several benefits for the country.
  • Firstly, it could potentially cut down India’s yearly auto fuel import bill by $4 billion or Rs 30,000 crore.
  • Secondly, farmers have the chance to increase their income by growing crops suitable for ethanol production.
  • Thirdly, ethanol is recognized as a cleaner fuel compared to other options. A NITI Aayog paper suggests that E20 fuel offers petrol-like efficiency at a lower cost and cuts emissions of harmful pollutants such as CO, HC, and NOx. Two-wheelers using E20 fuel saw CO emissions drop by 50%, and four-wheelers by 30%.
  • Using ethanol-blended petrol in India makes sense because we have plenty of land for crops, we’re producing more food and sugarcane than we need, we can make ethanol from plants, and it’s possible to adjust vehicles for ethanol blends. Switching to E20 isn’t just important for our country, it’s a strategic must-do.
  • In Europe, folks have really taken to biofuels for cutting greenhouse gases from cars since they see them as CO2-neutral once you look at emissions throughout their lifecycle.

Challenges involved

Less Production: Currently, domestic production of bioethanol is not sufficient to meet the demand for bio-ethanol for blending with petrol at Indian OMCs.

  • Sugar mills, which are the key domestic suppliers of bio-ethanol to OMCs, were able to supply only 57.6% of the total demand.
  • Sugar mills do not have the financial stability to invest in biofuel plants.
  • Investors are worried about the uncertainty surrounding the future price of bioethanol because the central government controls the prices of both sugarcane and bioethanol.

Compatible vehicles: Manufacturers should produce vehicles with rubberized parts, plastic components, and elastomers that work well with E20 fuel. Additionally, they should design engines to be optimal for using E20 fuel.

  • The NITI Aayog paper stated that manufacturers in the country have designed two-wheelers and passenger vehicles to be optimal for E5 (5 percent ethanol blend with petrol), while also ensuring that rubber and plastic components are compatible with E10 fuel.

Water Footprint: While India has become one of the top producers of ethanol but it lags top producers, the USA and Brazil, by a huge margin and remains inefficient in terms of water usage.

  • In India, farmers rely on rainwater for ethanol production, but often resort to using groundwater for drinking and essential needs due to insufficient rainfall.
  • The water footprint of ethanol includes rainwater absorbed by plants like sugarcane and the freshwater needed for cleansing pollutants.

Limited Sugarcane Availability: Sugarcane is another limited resource that affects the ethanol blending in the country.

  • In order to achieve a 20% blend rate, almost one-tenth of the existing net sown area will have to be diverted for sugarcane production. Any such land requirement is likely to put a stress on other crops and has the potential to increase food prices.

Lack of Alternatives: Making ethanol from leftover crops is a good idea, but the refineries can’t make enough to mix 5% with petrol yet.

  • Other biofuels such as Jatropha Have often proven to be commercially unviable.

Handling issues: Ethanol, being highly flammable, requires stringent safety measures throughout production, storage, and transportation, which hikes up costs and risks.

Way forward

  • Introduce E20 material-compliant and E10 engine-tuned vehicles starting April 2023, with production of E20-tuned engine vehicles beginning in April 2025.
  • Explore alternatives to sugarcane as a feedstock for biofuels, such as agricultural waste and recycled cooking oil, to reduce dependence on sugarcane.
  • Increase the non-cane contribution to the ethanol mix by incentivizing both public and private players to establish second-generation ethanol facilities.
  • We need to monitor and assess changes in emissions as ethanol blending increases to ensure we maximize the potential for reducing both regulated and unregulated pollutants.
  • This involves actively tracking emissions data and analyzing any shifts that occur as ethanol blending rates rise.
  • By doing so, we can identify areas where emissions reduction efforts are most effective and make adjustments as needed to optimize the environmental benefits of ethanol blending.

Read also: Pradhan Mantri Jl-VAN Yojana

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