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India’s ethanol push

GS Paper 3

 Source: IE

 

Context: At a G20 Energy Ministers’ meeting, the Indian PM stated that India has rolled out 20% ethanol-blended petrol this year and aims to cover the entire country by 2025.

  

Ethanol:

  • Ethanol is basically 9% pure alcohol that can be blended with petrol.
  • It is different from the 94% rectified spirit (having applications in paints, and pharmaceuticals) and 96% extra neutral alcohol that goes to make potable liquor.

 

India’s ethanol production programme: It has come a long way in the past five years, both in terms of the quantities supplied by sugar mills/distilleries to oil marketing companies (OMCs) and the raw material used.

 

Raw material used: 

 

What does it mean?

  • India’s ethanol programme is no longer reliant on a single feedstock or crop.
  • It has diversified only from molasses and cane to rice, maize and other grains as well.

 

Implications of diversification of feedstocks:

  • It will minimise supply fluctuations and price volatility on account of any one crop.
  • The incorporation of new feedstocks can create new demand for grains.
    • For example, if UP (a major sugarcane grower) and Bihar (maize) could supply rice, barley and millets to distilleries, they can “fuel India” the way Punjab, Haryana or MP “feed India”.

 

How was this diversification made possible?

  • Differential pricing:
    • Till 2017-18, the OMCs were paying a uniform price for ethanol produced from any feedstocks.
    • From 2018-19, the government began fixing higher prices for ethanol produced from B-heavy molasses and whole sugarcane juice/syrup.
    • This gave flexibility and incentive for mills/distilleries to use multiple feedstocks.
    • This has given stimulus to ethanol production, which can be seen from its all-India average blending with petrol touching 75% in 2022-23, as against 1.6% in 2013-14.
  • Byproduct benefits:
    • The liquid effluent (spent wash) generated during alcohol production in distilleries can pose serious environmental problems if discharged without proper treatment.
    • The new molasses-based distilleries have MEE (multi-effect evaporator) units, where the spent wash is concentrated to about 60% solids.
    • The concentrated wash is used as a boiler fuel along with bagasse (the fibre remaining after crushing sugarcane).

 

While the ethanol program has numerous benefits, there are also some concerns. Increased demand for grains for ethanol production may impact food supply and prices. Additionally, distilleries’ liquid effluent can pose environmental challenges, but advancements such as multi-effect evaporator units have enabled the utilization of spent wash as boiler fuel and the production of fertilizer and animal feed as by-products.

 

Conclusion:

Overall, the ethanol program holds promise for reducing dependence on fossil fuels, promoting sustainable practices, and providing opportunities for farmers and industries.

 

Insta links:

India pitching for enhanced development of Biofuels