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Rise in ethanol production will help India achieve blending target, says Dharmendra Pradhan

In 2016-17, the country's ethanol production was hampered as two big producers, Maharashtra and Karnataka, faced drought situation. India produced 111 crore litres of ethanol in 2015-16, while the production was 38 crore litres in 2013-14.

Fuels dependency can't be avoided but its effects on environment can be altered by blending ethanol extracted from sugarcane in petrol. If used to its full potential, ethanol usage could also help reduce India's oil dependence, which at present is 80 per cent. To realise Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call for reducing oil import by 10 per cent in the next four years, the country has set high targets for this year. As part of the ambitious target, the centre plans to blend a record 140 crore litres of ethanol with petrol in 2018.

According to the government norms, 10 per cent of ethanol extracted from sugarcane can be mixed with petrol. However, the government till now was not able to achieve the target due to a steady supply. "With the supply of 66.5 crore litres of ethanol in 2016-17, we had 2.1 per cent blending in petrol," Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said at the European Union-India Conference on Advanced Biofuels, reported PTI. The minister said the increased production of ethanol in 2017-18 (139.5 crore litres) will "help us achieve 4 per cent blending target".

In 2016-17, the country's ethanol production was hampered as two big producers, Maharashtra and Karnataka, faced drought situation. India produced 111 crore litres of ethanol in 2015-16, while the production was 38 crore litres in 2013-14.

10% oil import reduction target

India imported 77 per cent of fuel in 2015-16 (202.8 MT), while the number was 213.9 MT in 2016-17. It was the time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi set an ambitious target for the country to cut the import dependence by 10 per cent by 2022. Presently, Iraq has overtaken Saudi Arabia by a wide margin to become India's top crude oil supplier, meeting more than a fifth of the country's oil needs.

"We are also setting up commercial plants based on advanced biofuels. To attract investments from other potential investors, oil marketing companies have agreed to provide guaranteed offtake of 2G ethanol from suppliers for a period of 15 years," Pradhan said, adding that oil PSUs were also exploring possibilities of commercial production of bio-CNG from municipal solid waste, sewage water and crop residue, the agency reported.

How ethanol is produced, its benefits

Sugarcane is produced through the fermentation of sugarcane juice with molasses. It generates oxygen when combined with petrol, which helps in cutting the emission of harmful gases. It also improves the engine's efficiency by using less fuel. Being one of the biggest polluters in the world - and a signatory of the Paris Climate deal - India's ethanol dependence can certainly help it reduce the pollution problem.  

Methanol blending target

In December 2017, Union Roads Minister Nitin Gadkari had said the government would soon announce a policy, which calls for 15 per cent blending of methanol in petrol to make it cheaper and also reduce pollution. "In the upcoming Parliament session, I am announcing a policy of blending 15 per cent methanol in petrol," Gadkari said. He said methanol gets made from coal and costs only Rs 22 per litre as against the prevailing price of about Rs 80 per litre for petrol and added that China is making the coal byproduct for Rs 17 per litre itself. "The costs will go down, pollution will go down," the Union minister said.