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9/17/2018
Why ethanol blending in petrol might not work for India - Livemint
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Why ethanol blending in petrol might not work for India
India might be able to save on oil import costs by going for a greater petrol-ethanol mix, but
that could strain the country’s water resources and affect food availability
Last Published: Tue, Sep 04 2018. 11 55 AM IST
Abhishek Jha
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In order to achieve 20% petrol-ethanol blend rate, almost one-tenth of the existing net sown area will have to be diverted for
sugarcane production. Photo: Mint
India should increase the use of biofuels to reduce dependence on oil imports, Prime
Minister Narendra Modi and road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari have
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suggested on separate occasions. However, increasing the production of biofuels
can strain India’s water resources and affect food availability. Among biofuels, ethanol
appears to be the most viable alternative, and the government intends to raise ethanol
blending in petrol to 20% by 2030 from the current 2-3%.
Other biofuels, such as jatropha, have often proven to be commercially unviable.
While India has become one of the top producers of ethanol in recent years, it lags top
producers, the US and Brazil, by a huge margin and remains inefficient in terms of
water usage.
World's top fuel ethanol producers
Fuel ethanol production (thousand metric tonnes)
2013
2014
2015
USA
41,507
Brazil
19,898
China
Canada
2016
2,309
1,326
Thailand
748
France
740
Germany
654
Russia
480
Spain
351
Argentina
350
India
301
UK
257
Colombia
233
Belgium
224
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration • Get the data • Created with Datawrapper
Water footprint, that is water required to produce a litre of ethanol, includes rainwater at
the root zone used by ethanol-producing plants such as sugarcane, and surface, ground
water, and fresh water required to wash away pollutants. Estimates of water footprints
are available from the Water Footprint Network.
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India's water requirements for producing ethanol are not met
through rain water
Green, blue, and grey water footprint (litre/litre of ethanol)
Rain water in root zone of plant
Surface and ground water
f
in
Water for washing off pollutants
2,000
1,000
USA (Corn)
Brazil (Sugarcane)
India (Molasses)
Source: Mekonnen, M.M. & Hoekstra, A.Y. (2011) The green, blue and grey water footprint of crops and derived crop products, Hydrology and Earth
System Sciences, 15(5): 1577-1600. • Get the data • Created with Datawrapper
India’s water footprint is not only high in overall terms, but India also uses more surface
and ground water than the US and Brazil. Most of our daily uses of water come from this
source. India has the least internal surface and ground water compared with both
countries.
While the US and Brazil have 2,818 billion cubic metres (BCM) and 5,661 BCM/year of
water respectively, India has only 1,446 BCM per year, according to the Aquastat water
statistics of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) for 201317.
While India’s internal surface and ground water availability is just one-fourth of Brazil’s,
its usage of such water for ethanol fuel production is slowly catching up with that of
Brazil -- and even exceeded Brazil in 2016—despite there being a huge gap in the ‘blend
rates’.
In India, the blend rate—the amount of ethanol mixed with petrol—is only 2-3%.
For Brazil, which uses both an ethanol-petrol blend and just ethanol as fuel, the overall
blend rate is 45-50%. India’s surface and ground water requirement will hugely exceed
that of Brazil if India were to achieve its targeted 20% blend rate.
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India's surface/ground water requirement is already close to Brazil
Surface/ground water requirement (million litres) for fuel ethanol production
India
1,600,000
Brazil
48.8%
3.3%
45%
1,400,000
42%
49.3%
1,200,000
45.5%
40.3%
41.6%
36.9%
1,000,000
2.3%
2.0%
800,000
600,000
1.6%
1.8%
1.4%
1.4%
400,000
200,000 0.3%
0
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
% shown on lines correspond to the actual blend rate (overall for Brazil) for the year.
Source: FAS-USDA, Water Footprint Network • Get the data • Created with Datawrapper
In other words, while Brazil used 0.025% of its internal surface and ground water for
ethanol production to achieve a 45% overall blend rate in 2017, India would use 0.701%
even for 20%.
India can surpass Brazil in surface/ground water requirements in future
Surface/ground water requirement (million litres) for fuel ethanol production at different blend rates.
20,000,000
India
(20%)
15,000,000
10,000,000
India
(10%)
India (5%)
5,000,000
0
2018
2019
2020
2021
2022
2023
2024
2025
Brazil
(Projected)
2026
% shown on lines denote blend rates. The average of yearly projected overall blend rates for Brazil was 54.9.
Source: FAS-USDA, Water Footprint Network • Get the data • Created with Datawrapper
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Water is not the only limited resource we have. Sugarcane currently accounts for
around 3% of India’s net sown area. A simple calculation of extra area required for
the 2010 to 2017 period shows that to raise the petrol-ethanol blend rate to even 10%,
India will have to devote another 4% of its net sown area to sugarcane.
In order to achieve 20% blend rate, almost one-tenth of the existing net sown area will
have to be diverted for sugarcane production. Any such land requirement is likely to put a
stress on other crops and has the potential to increase food prices.
Achieving 20% blend rate would require India to divert an extra onetenth of its net sown area towards sugarcane
Percent net sown area that would be required on top of existing sugarcane acreage at different blend rates
5% Blend
10% Blend
20% Blend
5.00
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
Net sown area for India for this analysis was taken as the average of the net sown area from 2010-11 to 2013-14 (Source: 'Agriculture
Statistics at a Glance 2016' - Ministry of Agriculture And Farmers Welfare). Yield of sugarcane and molasses obtained per tonne of
sugarcane was approximated for each calendar year to the sugar year beginning in the year before that. A tonne of molasses was
assumed to produce 250 million litres of ethanol, as reported by ISMA to Standing Committee on Petroleum & Natural Gas.
Source: Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA), Ministry of Agri & Farmers Welfare • Get the data • Created with Datawrapper
India’s biofuel policy stipulates that fuel requirements must not compete with food
requirements and that only surplus food crops should be used for fuel production, if at
all. Producing ethanol from crop residue will then be a good alternative, except that the
annual capacity of required bio-refineries is stipulated to be 300-400 million litres,
which is still not enough to meet the 5% petrol-ethanol blending requirement.
“If that technology picks up, it will be a gamechanger, but with just 1G (first generation
biofuels, such as sugarcane-based ethanol), I don’t see how we can meet our demands,”
said Ramya Natarajan, senior research engineer, Centre for Study of Science, Technology
and Policy.
Increasing petrol-ethanol blending, therefore, does not seem viable in the current
scenario, unless concerted efforts are made to either increase sugarcane yield and
decrease water usage through better irrigation practices, or increase the ethanol
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production capacity of bio-refineries. Trying to increase blending without these efforts
can encroach upon land and water available for food production.
Abhishek Jha is a recipient of the Mint-Hindustan Times-HowIndiaLives Data
Journalism Fellowship 2018.
First Published: Tue, Sep 04 2018. 09 53 AM IST
TOPICS:
PETROL
ETHANOL
PETROL ETHANOL BLENDING
PETROL ETHANOL MIX
INDIA OIL IMPORTS
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