Can Ethanol be India’s Dream Biofuel to Reach Its Agro & Enviro Targets?

  • Published | 09 March 2023

Ethanol blended petrol (EBP) program’s aim to achieve the aggressive target of 20% ethanol blend in petrol by 2025 could help India significantly reduce carbon emissions and heavy import bill.

BiofuelEthanol (C2H5OH) is the intoxicating agent in alcoholic drinks. This colorless and flammable liquid is made through the fermentation and distillation processes. Ethanol is also utilized as the primary fuel source or as an addition in engines that run on fossil fuels, such as gasoline. Ethanol-powered or flex-fuel vehicles are designed to run on a blend of ethanol and gasoline. These vehicles have a fuel system capable of adjusting to different fuel mixtures, allowing the driver to use either gasoline or a blend of gasoline and ethanol. The most common blend in flex-fuel vehicles is E10, a mixture of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. However, some flex-fuel vehicles can also run on higher blends, such as E85, a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

The car industry worldwide is swiftly moving towards an all-electric future, and just a few years ago, India proposed a 100% EV objective by 2030. Nevertheless, that has now been revised to a more realistic 2040. Surprisingly, despite the EV aim, ethanol flex-fuel cars are being seriously considered, and India's minister for road transport and highways is actively lobbying for the cause. Ethanol-blended gasoline is not new to India; for over a decade, Petrol has been combined with ethanol, albeit at trace amounts of 2–3%. As modest quantities of ethanol - approximately 10% - have no negative impact on modern internal combustion engines (ICEs), ethanol blending was used to reduce India's heavy burden due to humongous crude oil import bill. The doping threshold has risen to about 10% recently, with the government aiming to raise it to 20% by 2025.

Passenger vehicles growth in india

According to projections of petrol use and a 20% ethanol mix, India will require 1,016 crore liters of ethanol by 2025, much less than India's expected supply of 1,500 crore liters. The public sector oil marketing corporations under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas are also investing Rs. 14,000 crore in the construction of 12 second generation (2G) bio-refineries. Besides bagasse, which is sugarcane waste left behind after juice extraction, 2G ethanol is made from agricultural leftovers, such as rice and wheat straw, maize cobs, and even empty fruit branches. As a result, the proposed 2G ethanol facilities are expected to enhance ethanol output using agricultural waste.

5G in Various Industries in India

The government states that overall ethanol production capacity in India is likely to increase by 25% to 1,250 crore liters by the end of 2023, as proactive initiatives have been made to expedite project clearance. A single-window clearance system has been implemented to fast track the ethanol projects seeking interest subvention and environmental approvals. India achieved the target of ethanol blending with gasoline to 10% in June 2022, ahead of the planned schedule November 2022. The Indian government has begun manufacturing flex-fuel in India. Depending on the petrol-ethanol ratio, these are labeled as E95, E90, or E85.

According to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) President Kenichi Ayukawa, the program will help India become a top worldwide producer in every vehicle class over the next 25 years. For instance, in October 2021, after implementing the harsher BS6 emission rules, Maruti Suzuki was one of the few carmakers to retire diesel options throughout its full model lineup. While there is no guarantee that Maruti Suzuki will return to diesel engines, the company is actively exploring ethanol-powered flex-fuel cars for India.

Shri. Nitin Gadkari, Central Minister of Road Transport and Highways in India, introduced Toyota Corolla Altis Hybrid, the country’s first ethanol-ready flex fuel hybrid vehicle (FFV-SHEV), in October 2022. Flex-fuel cars may operate on gasoline, ethanol, or a combination of both fuels. Such automobiles can change the engine fuel from gasoline to ethanol. They may also use the battery to power the engine, which helps to reduce carbon emissions. The Toyota Corolla Altis Hybrid is a one-of-a-kind pilot project car built on Flexi-Fuel Strong Hybrid Electric Vehicles (FFV-SHEV) technology. It has a 1.8-liter ethanol-ready petrol-hybrid engine.

In India, ethanol is now much cheaper than Petrol, allowing flex-fuel car owners to utilize it to save money on gasoline expenditures. It will also assist India in lowering its reliance on imported petroleum.

Practices on Ethanol Blending in Petrol

The global transportation sector faces three significant challenges, fossil fuel depletion, volatile crude oil prices, and stringent environmental rules and regulations. Alternative fuels tailored to specific areas can help in overcoming these concerns. Because of its higher octane number and environmental benefits, ethanol is regarded as one of the ideal alternative blending transportation fuels. The global output of fuel ethanol reached 110 billion liters in 2019, with an average annual growth rate of 4% over the prior decade. The United States of America (USA) and Brazil provide 92 billion liters (84% of the total world contribution), followed by the European Union (EU), China, India, Canada, and Thailand. Several countries have launched various initiatives to expand ethanol availability for transportation usage (Table 2.1). Brazil mandated that the ethanol concentration in gasoline sold in the country should be between 18% and 27.5%, now at 27%. Meanwhile, adopting 100% hydrous ethanol by flex-fuel cars in Brazil has boosted ethanol's average share of transportation to 46%.

5G in Automotive Sector

The government of India started pilot programs in 2001 that delivered 5% ethanol mixed fuel to retail outlets to strengthen the agriculture industry and minimize environmental pollution. Besides field trials, R&D activities were also conducted. These field experiments and research successfully paved the path for ethanol blended petrol in India. In a decision dated September 03, 2002, the Government of India agreed to commence the Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Program in January 2003, with the sale of 5% ethanol mixed petrol in nine states and four union territories (UTs).

Based on these encouraging results, the MoP&NG expanded the 5% EBP to 20 states and four UTs with effect from November 01, 2006. In the notified states and UTs, public sector oil marketing companies (OMCs) were requested to supply 5% EBP subject to commercial viability as per the criteria set by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).


Ethanol is relatively a low-cost alternative fuel with fewer emissions and more availability than unblended gasoline in India, but it has various advantages and disadvantages.

In terms of environmental impact, ethanol is less hazardous than unblended gasoline. Ethanol fuel produces substantially less carbon monoxide, a major air pollutant, than gasoline engines. It is also easier to get, as it is derived from processed maize. This also benefits agricultural and manufacturing economies. The Indian government is advancing its ethanol-to-petroleum program for two reasons: steadily rising cost of petroleum import and having a glut of sugar that has no takers in the export market.

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