NEW DELHI – India, the world’s third largest oil importer, has accelerated a proposal to introduce gasoline with a higher blend of ethanol in a bid to cut vehicle emissions and cut costs importation of oil.
While this should also benefit Indian farmers, who produce sugar cane and grains used to make ethanol, concerns have been expressed that greater ethanol adoption could have an impact. negative on the country’s food and ecological security.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially announced on June 5 – World Environment Day – the decision to advance the country’s target of 20% ethanol blending in gasoline by five years to 2025 , called E20.
Petroleum marketing companies in India currently sell gasoline containing a blend of 10 percent ethanol. However, only about 50 percent of gasoline sold in the country is made up of E10 due to insufficient availability of ethanol.
A June 5 report by a government panel of experts on ethanol blending in India estimates the country will need around 10 billion liters of ethanol to meet its E20 target in 2025-2026. This is triple the current needs of 3.32 billion liters.
This increased demand for ethanol will be met by six million tonnes of sugar and 16.5 million tonnes of grain per year by 2025, a requirement the country can support, according to the committee’s report.
India is also expected to spend around 500 billion rupees (S $ 9 billion) to increase ethanol production, Bloomberg reported on June 11. Vehicles with E20 tuned engines, which are necessary to ensure optimum benefits for the change of fuel, should be deployed. across the country from April 2025.
Among the many benefits cited behind the push for E20 is lower oil import costs. The government estimates that a successful deployment of the E20 program can save around $ 5.3 billion per year in oil import costs. Reducing vehicle emissions is another benefit, with ethanol-based gasoline known to reduce emissions such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.
However, there are ecological concerns that the push for ethanol will encourage greater cultivation of sugar cane and padi, which are water-intensive crops. Producing a single liter of ethanol from sugar requires about 3000 liters of water. If successful, food crops and the areas used for their cultivation could also end up being diverted to ethanol production.
Dr Jyoti Parikh, executive director of Delhi-based think tank Integrated Research and Action for Development, said push for ethanol adoption should take into account the overall cost of greater water use and electricity for the cultivation of sugar cane and cereals.
“It may pay off for a few, but socially you and I may be paying the cost,” she said.
She added that the goals of energy self-sufficiency and emission reductions can be better served by the adoption of electric vehicles, which should be given a higher priority.
The use of cereals “unfit for human consumption” for the production of ethanol may also be of concern. “This is a very clear advantage to drive on, especially when free rations have to be provided to support the poor in an economy affected by Covid,” she told the Straits Times.
Dr Parikh added that India may also consider importing ethanol. “This will provide a benchmark for the domestic price of ethanol and may reduce the ecological cost to our saving of water and rare earths which can come from wholly domestic production of ethanol,” she said.
The panel’s report recommends a shift to environmentally friendly crops for long-term ethanol production, including grains, especially corn, and second-generation biofuels. These include inedible oil seeds, used cooking oils and agricultural residues such as rice straw or corn cobs.
The government has proposed to set up commercial plants as well as second-generation biofuel refinery demonstration plants.
With most of India’s ethanol production capacity currently derived from molasses, there are concerns about the impact of sugar prices on ethanol availability. A price increase, for example, could result in the use of sugarcane molasses destined for ethanol for the production of sugar. The expert committee prescribed roughly equal amounts of ethanol production from molasses and grains in the coming years to reduce dependence on sugar cane.
Diversifying sources of ethanol, especially through greater use of non-food biomass, is of crucial importance, said Mr. Vivek Chattopadhyaya, senior manager of the air pollution program at the Center for Delhi science and environment.
“Any clean fuel program must ensure a constant supply and affordable prices. You have to price cleaner fuel at a lower price than regular fuel and supply inconsistencies can increase costs, ”he told The Straits Times.
A similar program to promote biodiesel in India has not been as successful due to low commercial viability, including the unavailability of land for large-scale cultivation of jatropha, which is used to produce biofuel blended with diesel, and low yields.
The expert panel report recommended tax breaks on ethanol-based fuels as well as tax incentives for vehicles compatible with E20 fuel.
Mr Chattopadhyaya added that more studies are needed to clearly establish the ecological benchmarks for the use of ethanol, including the extent to which it reduces carbon dioxide emissions, as well as increasing emissions of certain pollutants. such as acetaldehyde versus gasoline.
Emissions from the use of fossil fuels in the production and transport of ethanol will also need to be considered in the overall assessment of the environmental impact of ethanol.
“That’s why we can’t just focus on the end use. We need to see how we can tie energy security, food security and the well-being of farmers, in addition to the obvious emission reduction targets, into a holistic roadmap to ensure that the adoption of ethanol is a success. success at all levels, ”said Chattopadhyaya.