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  • Context (TH | IE | BS): GoI allowed sugarcane juice to make ethanol a week after the ban.
  • It permitted sugarcane juice and B-heavy molasses (by-product of sugar) for green fuel production but limited sugar diversion to 17 lakh tonnes.
  • For now, the capping will be in place for the 2023-24 supply year that ends in October next year.

Ethanol

  • Ethanol (ethyl or grain alcohol) is a biofuel produced by yeast fermentation of sugars or starches.
  • The hydration of ethylene can also produce it.
  • It is a volatile, flammable, colourless liquid with a pungent taste and odour.
  • It is commonly used as a recreational beverage, a fuel source, a solvent, and an industrial feedstock.
  • Ethanol is 99.9% pure alcohol that can be blended with petrol.

Why is the Government so Focused on Ethanol-blending?

  • Earlier, the demand for ethanol was from potable liquor and chemicals companies.
  • But now ethanol blending is on the top priority list of the government. The reasons for this are:
    1. Environment friendliness of ethanol
    2. Reduce reliance on oil imports
    3. Cheaper than petrol
  • Consequently, sugar/sugarcane started getting diverted for ethanol production in the past few years.
  • In addition to sugarcane, India is establishing modern technology-based ethanol plants to convert agricultural waste/surplus into ethanol.

Ethanol Blending Programme (EBP)

  • The EBP programme was launched in 2003 with multiple objectives, including:
    • Reducing import dependence
    • Savings in foreign exchange
    • Providing a boost to the domestic agriculture sector
    • Associated environmental benefits.
  • Under EBP, India aims to blend 20% ethanol in petrol (E20) by 2025.

Increase in Ethanol Blending

  • All-India average blending of ethanol in petrol has risen from 1.6% in 2013-14 to 11.8% in 2022-23.
  • Ethanol blending in petrol has risen due to feedstock diversification.

Feedstock of India’s Ethanol Blending

  • Under the National Policy on Biofuels 2018, the GoI allowed the conversion of B-Heavy molasses (a by-product of sugar), sugarcane juice and damaged food grains (DFG) to produce ethanol.
  • This began differentiated ethanol pricing based on raw material/feedstock.
  • The move enabled:
    1. A reliable supply of feedstocks
    2. Price stability for farmers
  • Moreover, in 2020, maize was introduced for ethanol production.
  • Technically, any starch-rich crop, including potato, corn, wheat, rice, sorghum, barley, rye, cassava, and triticale, can be used for fuel ethanol production.
  • Brazil is a leader in ethanol-blended gasoline.

Ethanol blending in India

Challenges to India’s Ethanol Policy

  • High dependence on sugarcane, which is water-intensive. Thus, a weak monsoon or erratic rainfall poses a great threat to the industry.
  • Shortage of sugar for consumption
  • Lower calorific value: Pure ethanol has a lower calorific value than petrol, leading to an inverse correlation between vehicle mileage and the ethanol blend percentage.
  • Vehicle health: Using ethanol-mixed petrol can lead to corrosion and rust in the fuel tank as it has high polarity and moisture affinity.

Way Ahead

  • Increase grains as feedstock: The successful implementation of the EBP programme needs 50% ethanol to be produced through grain-based distilleries.
  • Increase maize as feedstock: Maize-based ethanol is more economical and water-efficient than sugarcane.
  • Dual feedstock capability plants: Setting up dual feed (molasses or grain) ethanol plants.
  • Policy support: Agriculture policies supporting ethanol-producing crops.

Biogas

  • Biofuels are fuels (solid, liquid, and gaseous) that are derived from biomass/organic matter.
  • As biofuels emit less CO2 than conventional fuels, they can be blended with existing fuels to effectively reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector.
  • Biogas is a type of biofuel that is produced by anaerobic digestion of organic matter.

Biogas

Biofuels Generation

Generation

Feedstock

Carbon Content

Example

First

Food crops

High carbon content

Bioethanol, biodiesel

Second

Non-food biomass

Carbon content less than 1st generation biofuels

Cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel from waste vegetable oil

Third

Microorganisms

Carbon neutral (CO2 Emitted = CO2 Sequestrated)

Biodiesel from algae

Fourth

Genetically engineered crops

Carbon negative (CO2 Emitted < CO2 Sequestrated)

Biofuels from algae, bacteria, & yeast

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