Ethanol Blending And Land Use change : 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: Ethanol Blended, Energy security, Sugarcane farmers, HC emissions, Electric Vehicles, Administered Price Mechanism, National Policy on Biofuels–2018, E20, E85 or E100, Long Term Ethanol Procurement Policy, Zero-Emissions Recharging.

Why in News?

  • India's target to have 20% ethanol blended in petrol will have to bring more land under cultivation of raw material, and that may affect food security. Yet, emissions will not reduce drastically.


  • For India to meet its target of 20 per cent ethanol blended in petrol by the year 2025 (commonly known as the E20 target), it will have to bring in more land under cultivation of feedstock--agricultural products that can be converted into ethanol--land that can be better utilised for the generation of renewable energy and for furthering India's electric vehicles adoption programme.
  • Besides, the ethanol target will not reduce earth-warming emissions drastically, it may be detrimental to India's food security, and will only help us inch towards energy security.


  • Ethanol (also called ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol, drinking alcohol, or simply alcohol) is an organic chemical compound. Ethanol is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid with a characteristic wine-like odour and pungent taste.
  • It is a psychoactive drug, recreational drug, and the active ingredient in alcoholic drinks.
  • Ethanol is naturally produced by the fermentation of sugars by yeasts or via petrochemical processes such as ethylene hydration. It has medical applications as an antiseptic and disinfectant. It is used as a chemical solvent and in the synthesis of organic compounds. Ethanol is a fuel source.
  • In India, it is primarily produced from sugarcane-based raw materials or certain types of heavy molasses, sugarcane juice/sugar/sugar syrup, and surplus rice available with the Food Corporation of India and maize. These are known as first generation biofuels.

Benefits of Ethanol As A Fuel:

  • Energy security
    • The Union government has emphasised that increased use of ethanol can help reduce the oil import bill. India’s net import cost stands at $551 billion in 2020-21. It is estimated that the E20 program can save the country $4 billion (Rs 30,000 crore) per annum.
    • It is also benefitting the sugarcane farmers. Further, the government plans to encourage use of water-sparing crops, such as maize, to produce ethanol, and production of ethanol from non-food feedstock.
  • Impact on emissions
    • Use of ethanol-blended petrol decreases emissions such as carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons (HC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Higher reductions in CO emissions were observed with E20 fuel i.e. 50 per cent lower in two-wheelers and 30 per cent lower in four-wheelers.
    • HC emissions reduced by 20 per cent with ethanol blends compared to normal petrol. Nitrous oxide emissions, however, did not show a significant trend as it depended on the vehicle / engine type and engine operating conditions.
    • Addition of ethanol, with a high blending octane number, however, allowed a reduction in aromatics in petrol. Such blends also burn cleaner as they have higher octane levels than pure petrol but have higher evaporative emissions from fuel tanks and dispensing equipment.

Why Ethanol Blending Target May Not be a Good Idea?

  • Increasing production of food-based feedstock for ethanol manufacturing may not be the best use of land in a hungry country like India. India ranked 101 of 116 countries on the World Hunger Index 2021. Further, land can be used far more efficiently for generating renewable power for Electric Vehicles (EV) than for growing crops for ethanol.
  • For example, there is a need 187 hectares worth of maize-derived ethanol to match the annual travel distance of an EV recharged from one hectare of solar energy--even accounting for losses from electricity transmission, battery charging and grid storage.
  • Large-scale land diversion for Ethanol production would be in contravention of the other priorities of the Indian government such as food production, adoption to renewable sources of energy and water security of the country.
  • Use of land on this scale to grow crops for ethanol production is questionable considering India's food security concerns, the fact that sugarcane is a water-guzzling crop, and that availability of damaged or surplus grains is uncertain. For example, on average, one tonne of sugarcane can produce 100 kg of sugar and 70 litres of ethanol. Cultivation of each kg of sugar requires 1,600 to 2,000 litres of water. Hence, one litre of ethanol from sugar requires about 2,860 litres of water.

Government Intervention to Increase Ethanol Blending:

  • To increase indigenous production of ethanol the Government since 2014 took multiple interventions like:-
    • Re-introduction of administered price mechanism.
    • Opening of alternate route for ethanol production.
    • Reduction in Goods & Service Tax (GST) on ethanol meant for EBP Programme from 18% to 5%.
    • Differential ethanol price based on raw material utilized for ethanol production.
    • Interest Subvention Scheme for enhancement and augmentation of the ethanol production capacity by 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 2030( later target set for 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 achieve 10% ethanol blending in petrol by 2021-22 and 20% by 2025.

Way Forward:

  • Land can be used far more efficiently to generate renewable power for EV batteries than growing crops for ethanol.
  • The ramifications of India's ethanol policy are far-reaching, and its implications for land use appear not to have been adequately considered. A careful evaluation of both the target blending level and its timeframe is needed, considering land use, food security and other issues confronting the rural sector in particular.
  • To achieve the key goal, that is emissions reduction, alternative mechanisms--enhanced EV uptake, installation of additional renewable generation capacity to allow zero-emissions recharging, etc.--need to be evaluated.

Source: Business Standard

Mains Question:

Q. What is Ethanol blended fuel? Why India's 2025 ethanol blending target may not be a good idea? Examine (250words).