India Spurs Ethanol for Vehicles to Combat Pollution in Delhi

  • Road transport minister says policy decision due by Jan. 26
  • Sugar industry urged to boost production of the clean fuel

India said it will allow vehicles that run on ethanol and asked the sugar industry to boost production of the clean fuel in measures aimed at paring back pollution that blankets New Delhi.

Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said he will announce policy measures to implement the decision before Jan. 26 that will “allow manufacturing of vehicles that can run on 100 percent ethanol and flexi fuels."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is struggling to improve air quality in the capital as the growth of India’s economy boosts power consumption, which is mostly generated by plants fueled by coal. Growth in cars and trucks on the road contributes to pollution that at times is worse than the smogs in Beijing.

The announcement came as the country’s highest court temporarily banned registration of larger diesel vehicles in Delhi, a move intended to keep air quality from deteriorating further during the winter months.

India already has adopted blending gasoline with ethanol as a way of reducing emissions from vehicle exhaust and reducing its fuel import bill. The move will require the sugar industry to invest more in building refineries that can make ethanol.

Only about 130 of India’s 500 sugar mills have distillation capacity for the fuel, according to the Indian Sugar Mills Association, which said the industry already is expanding.

Expanding Ethanol

“Ethanol supplies this year may be expected to be around 1.25-1.30 billion liters, almost double the quantity supplied last year,” the association’s president, A. Vellayan, said at its annual meeting on Wednesday.

Though Vellayan argues that increased production of ethanol has the potential to bring in savings of $1.7 billion in foreign exchange a year, environmentalists are concerned that the move could impact food security.

"Waste to fuel is a welcome move but we must guard against the risk of taking away land for growing food to produce fuel crops like happened in Brazil," said Madhav Pai, a Mumbai-based director at the World Resources Institute.

In Brazil, ethanol makes as much as 27 percent of fuel for cars. Some vehicles can run on pure grades of the renewable fuel, and others are flexible to change the kind of fuel they’re using, according to the sugar association.

"In India only 3 percent ethanol is blended with petrol," Vellayan said.

Almost 58 percent of sugarcane goes for ethanol production in Brazil, and only 42 percent is refined into sugar, he added. In India, ethanol is primarily produced from molasses, which comes from manufacturing sugar. Molasses output depends on the sugarcane crop, which varies each year.

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