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What is Ethanol fuel, its benefits, and how is it different from other fuels?

India is going bullish on the adoption of ethanol fuel in the country as it is looking for clean energy alternatives for fossil fuels.

Edited By: Shubham Verma

Published: Aug 29, 2023, 06:45 PM IST

Ethanol fuel is made of ethanol and petrol
Ethanol fuel is made of ethanol and petrol

Story Highlights

  • Ethanol fuel or flex fuel is a blend of ethanol (ethyl alcohol) and petrol.
  • It can offer better engine performance than regular petrol at cheaper costs.
  • But it also has some disadvantages like lower fuel efficieny.

Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday unveiled the world’s first vehicle that uses an Ethanol-powered BS6 hybrid engine. The new Toyota Innova HyCross with Flex Fuel technology is currently in the prototype stage, but the company, with the government’s help, is planning to switch to clean energy over the next few years. That falls in line with the government’s E20 vision as part of its carbon reduction commitments. According to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India will achieve net zero by 2070.

What is Ethanol fuel, though? How is it better or worse than your regular fossil fuels? And what are its benefits? Let us talk about each of them in detail.

What is ethanol fuel or flex fuel?

Flex fuel essentially is a blend of ethanol in conventional fuel to make it environment-friendly and cost-effective. But to understand that, let us first understand what ethanol is. Also known as ethyl alcohol, it is a biofuel that is produced when agricultural waste of crops such as sugarcane, maize, barley, and corn are left to ferment. As part of India’s Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) programme, ethanol is mixed with petrol to form a biofuel that can reduce the dependence on non-renewable resources while also contributing to the environment.

Ethanol fuel is anhydrous, which means it contains no water and is best suited to mix with petrol to form a flexible fuel. The carbon emissions from flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) are significantly lower than those of the vehicles running on fossil fuels, like petrol and diesel.

How is it better than petrol?

Although ethanol fuel requires some proportions of it to be petrol, it is both more environment-friendly and more cost-effective than petrol. According to a study by the US Department of Energy, published by Argonne National Laboratory in 2021, ethanol made of corn has 44 percent to 52 percent lower GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions than petrol.

And even though there still is a substantial amount of carbon released into the atmosphere when flex fuel is burnt, it is offset by the carbon dioxide captured when the feedstock crops are grown for the production of ethanol. In other words, the crops that are later processed for the production of ethanol consume carbon dioxide from the environment, leaving a negligible carbon footprint. Petrol, on the other hand, has no such system for the offset of emissions.

On the economical side, it is cost-effective, too. Ethanol-blended petrol is cheaper than high-performance petrol. That is because it has a higher octane rating than petrol, which means it can improve engine performance and efficiency. The current price of ethanol is Rs 65.60 per litre, and at present, only 10 percent ethanol is blended in petrol. However, the government wants to double this quantity by 2025.

How is it worse than petrol?

Although ethanol fuel is the need of the hour, it, too, has some drawbacks. First, ethanol-blended petrol has a lower energy content than petrol, which results in lower fuel economy. In other words, it will give you a lower mileage than petrol. That, however, should not be a big deal considering the cost of flex-fuel is also lower than that of petrol. Another disadvantage is that ethanol can cause damage to small engines and engines that are not designed to run on blended fuel. Although different car makers are gradually coming up with options for vehicles that run on ethanol fuel in their portfolio, it can cause your regular car engine to malfunction if fed inadvertently.

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Author Name | Shubham Verma

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