Mixing ethanol with petrol will substantially reduce the escalating fuel import bill in India, opines Bhargav TS
Rising oil prices are leading sceptics to take a re-look at the hitherto-ignored alternative fuels for automobiles. Alternative fuels such as bio-diesel, ethanol, and biogas have huge potential and would see a big demand in the country in the coming years. Ethanol is getting the most attention at present, but interest is equally growing for methanol, or even the oil that is left over once the French fries are made, for possible use in diesel engines. In addition to bio-fuels, research is also underway on using electricity and natural gas as power sources for automobiles.
The story dates back to the 1880s when Henry Ford designed a car that ran solely on ethanol. Later, ethanol-blended gasoline (petrol) accounted for more than ten per cent of total gasoline vehicle sales in the United States. Ethanol is otherwise called as grain alcohol, which is a colourless and flammable liquid derived from the fermentation of a variety of plant materials. Ethanol is the fermented component of alcohol and is measured in a percentage.
A senior professor of a research institute in Chennai says, "Ethanol is produced by fermenting plant sugars. Anything containing sugar, starch, or cellulose can be fermented and distilled into ethanol. In the United States, more than 90 per cent of ethanol production comes from corn. Pure ethanol is rarely used for transportation; usually it is mixed with gasoline."
The most popular blend for light-duty vehicles is known as E85, which is 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent gasoline. Heavy-duty trucks typically use E95 (ethanol blended with five per cent unleaded gasoline) and E93 (ethanol blended with five per cent methanol and two per cent kerosene). For many years, ethanol has also been used as a ten per cent mixture with gasoline in a blend called "gasohol" or E10 to reduce carbon monoxide emissions during winter. Finally, ethanol is often blended in gasoline as oxygenate to meet clean fuel requirements.
Mandatory ethanol mix
In order to reduce India's burden of fuel imports, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved mixing of five per cent ethanol in petrol as mandatory, and the same would come into force across the country soon. Such a move would lead to substantial saving of around 100 crore litres of fuel in the country every year and also help in reducing carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions by around 15 per cent. The CCEA's approval would be followed by a gazette notification by the Petroleum Ministry paving the way for oil marketing companies to implement the decision from the 2012-13 sugarcane harvest season as ethanol is its by-product. Ethanol blending has been suggested and is seen as silver bullet to India's search for an anti-dote to huge oil imports, which make the economy hostage to price volatility in the international market. It is also seen as a long-term solution to reducing dependence on fossil fuel while increasing the energy efficiency of the fuel.
Future of alternate fuels
Experts are of the opinion that ethanol would be the choice of alternate fuels in the future and would give a tough challenge to fossil fuels. Ethanol is becoming a popular fuel because it burns cleaner than fossil fuel and is a lot cheaper to produce. Currently in United States, ethanol is being mixed with gasoline at fuel stations and called as gasohol.
In the lab, many gasoline alternatives look good. But on the road, automotive engineers have a lot of work to do in terms of designing/tweaking fuel delivery systems, while energy companies must create new infrastructure before people can drive into a petroleum-free future. And, then there's the issue of funds. Too often, discussions of alternative energy take place in an alternative universe where prices do not matter.The advantages of ethanol are many: it is a clean-burning fuel, potentially providing more power, acceleration, payload, and cruise speed than gasoline. Moreover, ethanol has a higher octane rating, which reduces engine "knock" and can result in higher energy efficiency and cools faster. From an environment perspective also it is very clear that ethanol reduces CO2 emissions, and it may not be long before more countries decide to introduce ethanol in their automotive fleets.