Modi Government’s ethanol blending plan: Here’s all you need to know

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India's ethanol roadmap proposes a gradual rollout of ethanol-blended fuel to achieve E10 fuel supply by April 2022 and phased rollout of E20 from April 2023 to April 2025

The Government of India has advanced the target for 20 per cent ethanol blending in petrol (also called E20) to 2025 from 2030. E20 will be rolled out from April 2023. This measure is being aimed at reducing the country’s oil import bill and carbon dioxide pollution. This new initiative is also part of measures to improve energy security and self-sufficiency measures. The central government is expecting investments of up to Rs 41,000 crore to help India achieve its ethanol blending target of 10 per cent by 2022 and 20 per cent by 2025. This investment is likely to arrive as capacity addition for ethanol-producing distilleries in addition to building new ones, Union Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said on Tuesday. Here’s everything we need to know — what plans the government has, how it will affect consumers and more.

India’s ethanol roadmap

On Tuesday, the central government has also released an expert committee report on the Roadmap for Ethanol Blending in India by 2025. The roadmap proposes a gradual rollout of ethanol-blended fuel to achieve E10 fuel supply by April 2022 and phased rollout of E20 from April 2023 to April 2025. Currently, 8.5 per cent of ethanol is blended with petrol in India. In order to introduce vehicles that are compatible the committee recommends roll out of E20 material-compliant and E10 engine-tuned vehicles from April 2023 and production of E20-tuned engine vehicles from April 2025.

The Indian Government has been promoting use of ethanol as a blend stock with main automotive fuel like petrol in line with the National Policy on Biofuels -2018 under the Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Programme. This policy envisages an indicative target of blending 20% ethanol in petrol by 2025. “Department of Food & Public Distribution (DFPD) has informed that the production of ethanol varies from distillery to distillery and depends upon various factors viz. cost of raw material, conversion cost, efficiency of distillery plants etc. Several supply and demand side interventions have been initiated by the Government including enhancing scope of raw material for ethanol production and fixing remunerative prices of ethanol from different feedstocks being utilized for ethanol production. Based on the ethanol supply offers, Public Sector Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) have allocated 325.5 crore liters for Ethanol Supply Year (ESY) (period from Dec. to Nov.) 2020-21 to be blended with petrol under the EBP Programme,” an official PIB statement said in March.

It also added, “In order to enhance the ethanol production capacity in the country, DFPD has informed that Government has notified a modified scheme on January 14, 2021, for extending financial assistance in the form of interest subvention on loans advanced by Banks/NCDC/IREDA/NBFCs and any other financial institutions to project proponents for different activities viz. setting up of new distilleries, expansion of existing capacity, installation of Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) System and Molecular Sieve Dehydration (MSDH) Column, etc. for production of first generation (1G) ethanol from feedstock such as cereals (rice, wheat, barley, corn, sorghum), sugarcane and sugar beet, etc. including granaries and surplus rice with Food Corporation of India (FCI). The government also fixed remunerative prices of ethanol from such feedstock i.e. Rs 51.55 per litres from damaged food grains and Rs 56.87 per litres from FCI rice.”

At the press conference, Sudhanshu Pandey detailed the government’s plans to set aside surplus food products like sugarcane towards the goal of increasing ethanol production, while also highlighting how it will usher in new employment opportunities, primarily in rural areas, besides strengthening the agricultural economy. “EBP will a bring positive impact on the country’s economy, along with promoting ethanol as an indigenous non-polluting and virtually inexhaustible fuel. This reduces carbon monoxide emission by 30-50 per cent and hydrocarbon by 20 per cent,” he said. “The production of fuel-grade ethanol and its supply to oil companies has increased by 5 times from 2013-14 to 2018-19. In 2018-19, ethanol production touched 189 crore litres, thereby achieving 5 per cent blending. The ethanol supply in the current year 2020-21 is more than 300 crore litres, contributing 8-8.5 per cent blending levels. We would be achieving a 10 per cent blending target by 2022,” he added.

This move will likely affect consumers in both positive and negative ways, so let’s break down here what they are:

Less fuel efficiency
As per the government report, if your car’s engine is engineered for zero percent blend but is used with 10 percent ethanol, it is projected to have a 6-7 percent drop in fuel efficiency. Similarly, if you use 20 percent blend on a 10 percent ethanol-engineered engine, it is expected to reduce the efficiency by one to two percent. The report suggests that 20 percent ethanol-engineered engines are also likely to experience lower fuel economy.

No start, drivability and malfunction issues
Upon conducting regular tests with 20 percent ethanol blend, the government found that the test vehicles passed both start and drivability tests in hot and cold conditions. There was no severe malfunction or stalling observed at any stage of testing. However, this was only possible after the modifications done to the engine.

Slightly higher cost of purchase
Since the engines need to be recalibrated and higher grades of materials need to be used, the manufacturing costs will increase. So, the prices of the cars are expected to increase by Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 once switched to 20 percent blend.

Impact on emissions after ethanol blending
Use of ethanol-blended petrol decreases emissions such as carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons (HC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), the expert committee noted. Higher reductions in CO emissions were observed with E20 fuel — 50 per cent lower in two-wheelers and 30 per cent lower in four-wheelers. HC emissions reduced by 20 per cent with ethanol blends compared to normal petrol. Nitrous oxide emissions, however, did not show a significant trend as it depended on the vehicle/engine type and engine operating conditions. The unregulated carbonyl emissions, such as acetaldehyde emission were, however, higher with E10 and E20 compared to normal petrol. However, these emissions were relatively lower. Evaporative emission test results with E20 fuel were similar to E0.

What have we seen globally?

An increase in the ethanol content in fuels reduced the emissions of some regulated pollutants such as CO, HC and CO2. However, not much change in emissions was observed for nitrogen oxides emissions. Addition of ethanol, with a high blending octane number, however, allowed a reduction in the aromatics in petrol. Such blends also burn cleaner as they have higher octane levels than pure petrol but have higher evaporative emissions from fuel tanks and dispensing equipment. Therefore, petrol requires extra processing to reduce evaporative emissions before they are blended with ethanol. According to downtoearth.org, “Further, studies also point out that higher emission rates of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde relative to petrol is offset by reduction in benzene and 1,3-butadiene emissions, which are commonly emitted species from petrol combustion resulting in overall reduction in toxicity. It is important to study the emissions from flexible fuel vehicles not only for the regulated gases but also the unregulated ones. The blended fuel burns more efficiently with a more homogenous mixture, which leads to a decrease in CO2 emissions compared with pure petrol. The emission benefit varies depending on feedstock used in producing ethanol, according to the US Department of Energy’s alternative fuel data center.”

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