Understanding Ethanol Blending : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Key Phrases: Energy Efficient Vehicles, E10 policy of the government, 20% by 2025, Self-sufficiency of Energy Sector, Nitrous Oxide Emissions, Inefficient Land Use, Reduction in Import Bill, Energy Transition to Renewable Energy

Why in News?

  • The Prime Minister has recently announced that India has achieved its target of blending 10% sugarcane-extracted ethanol in petrol ahead of schedule while addressing the nation from the Red Fort on the 76th Independence Day.

What is Ethanol Blending?

  • Blending ethanol with petrol and other fuels to burn less fossil fuel and make the vehicles more energy efficient is called ethanol blending.
  • Ethanol is an agricultural by-product that is mainly obtained from the processing of sugar from sugarcane, and also from other sources such as rice husk or maize.
  • Currently, 10% of the petrol that powers the vehicle is ethanol under the E10 policy of the government.
  • India’s aim is to increase this ratio to 20% by 2025.

Significance of Ethanol blending:

  1. Self-sufficiency of Energy Sector: India is one of the world’s biggest oil-importing nations. Ethanol blending can play a major role in the self-sufficiency in the energy sector.
  2. Reduction in Import Bill: It will help bring down the share of oil imports (almost 85%) on which India spends a considerable amount of precious foreign exchange.
  3. Increase in farmer's Income: More ethanol output would help increase farmer’s incomes.
  4. Reduction in air pollution: Ethanol burns completely due to the presence of oxygen emitting nil carbon dioxide. Stubble burning can also be reduced by using the left-over residue from rice harvests to make ethanol.
  5. Reduction in GHGs: The 2G ethanol project will reduce greenhouse gases equivalent to about three lakh tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum, which is the same as replacing almost 63,000 cars annually on our roads.

What are first-generation and second-generation ethanol?

  • First generation ethanol or 1G: First-generation biofuels are food-related sources such as cereals, maize, sugar beet and cane, sugar, corn and rapeseed. They have high-carbon content.
  • Second-generation ethanol or 2G: Second-generation biofuels are non-food sources produced from residual and waste products, such as rice straw, wheat straw, corn cobs, corn stover, bagasse, bamboo and woody biomass. Large quantities of used frying oil and slaughterhouse waste are also used.

World scenario of ethanol blending:

  • The U.S., China, Canada and Brazil all have ethanol blending programmes, however, as a developing country, Brazil stands out.
  • It has achieved the 27% target in 2021 after passing the legislation for the ethanol blending in petrol to be in the 18-27.5% range.

How does ethanol blending impact the auto industry?

  • The industry has committed to making all vehicles E20 material compliant by 2023.
  • This means that the petrol points, plastics, rubber, steel and other components in vehicles would need to be compliant to hold/store fuel that is 20% ethanol.
  • Without such a change, rusting is an obvious impediment.
  • The industry has committed to becoming E20 engine compliant by 2025, which means that engines would need to be tweaked so as to process petrol which has been blended with 20% ethanol.

What are the challenges before the industry in the transition to 20% ethanol blended fuel?

  • Optimisation of engines for higher ethanol blends and the conduction of durability studies on engines and field trials before introducing E20 compliant vehicles is the biggest challenge in the transition process.
  • Storage is going to be another concern, for if E10 supply has to continue in tandem with E20 supply, storage would have to be made separate which will increase the costs.

What are the issues with ethanol?

  1. Nitrous Oxide Emissions: Burning ethanol does not reduce the emissions of nitrous oxide which is another key pollutant.
  2. Inefficient land use: The land use in ethanol production is highly inefficient. The land can be used far more efficiently by generating renewable power for Electric vehicle(EV) batteries. For example, the annual travel distance of EVs recharged from solar energy generated from one-hectare land is equivalent to 187 hectares of maize-derived ethanol.
  3. Huge water consumption: Sugarcane is a water-intensive crop. Thus, one litre of ethanol from sugar consumes 2,860 litres of water. There has been, therefore, a move toward waste-based extraction, such as through coarse grains.
  4. Food Insecurity: Ethanol production from food-based raw materials could impact food security which is a grave concern for India when India ranks 101 out of 116 nations on the World Hunger Index 2021. Climate change-induced heatwaves further increase the risks with lower-than-expected harvests.

Various Government Interventions to Increase Ethanol Blending:

  • E-100 Project: It proposes to set up a network for the production and distribution of ethanol in India.
  • Pradhan Mantri JI-VAN Yojana: To create an ecosystem for setting up commercial projects and to boost Research and Development in the 2G Ethanol sector.
  • GOBAR (Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources) DHAN scheme: It focuses on managing and converting cattle dung and solid waste in farms to useful compost, biogas and bio-CNG, thus keeping villages clean and increasing the income of rural households.
  • Interest Subvention Scheme for enhancement and augmentation of the ethanol production capacity by the Department of Food and Public Distribution (DFPD).
  • The National Policy on Biofuels–2018, provides an indicative target of 20% ethanol blending under the Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Programme by 2025.
  • The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has mandated stickers on vehicles mentioning their E20, E85 or E100 compatibility.
  • MoP&NG has also issued a 'Long Term Ethanol Procurement Policy' under EBP Programme with a view to achieving 10% ethanol blending in petrol by 2021-22 and 20% by 2025.


  • The auto industry has committed to making all vehicles E20 (20% ethanol in petrol) material compliant by 2023.
  • This means that the petrol points, plastics, rubber, steel and other components in vehicles would need to be compliant to hold/store fuel that is 20% ethanol.
  • While ethanol blending can reduce CO2 emissions, inefficient land and water use for ethanol extraction as well as food security concerns still remain.
  • Thus, the alternative mechanisms need to be operationalised with enhanced EV uptake, and installation of additional renewable generation capacity to allow zero-emissions recharging

Source: The Hindu

Mains Question:

Q. Discuss the need for an ethanol blending programme in India and the challenges associated with it. Suggest the way forward for a sustainable transition to renewable energy. (250 words).