India's Ethanol Solution: Reducing Oil Dependency

India's Ethanol Solution: Reducing Oil Dependency
Posted on 23-09-2023

Ethanol - A Potential Solution for India's Energy Challenges

With international oil prices approaching $100 per barrel once again and India's import dependence on crude oil hitting a record high of 87.3% in FY2023, it is imperative for India to develop a clear research and development plan to boost ethanol production. Ethanol blending, the process of mixing ethanol with petrol or diesel, offers a viable solution to reduce the dependency on imported crude oil.

Ethanol Blending

Ethanol, primarily derived from sugar processing but also obtainable from sources like rice husk or maize, can be blended with petrol or diesel to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels in vehicles. Ethanol's oxygen content promotes more efficient combustion, reduces emissions, and enhances fuel's environmental performance. India is on track to make all vehicles E20 compatible (containing 20% ethanol in petrol) by 2023, necessitating compatible materials in fuel points, plastics, rubber, steel, and other vehicle components.

Reasons for Scaling up Ethanol Blending in India

  1. High Energy Demand: Two-wheelers, which cater to a broad economic spectrum, account for nearly 60% of India's petrol demand. With the demand for four-wheelers expected to grow, blending can only provide a modest reduction in overall petrol demand.

  2. Dependency on Imported Crude: India's import dependence on crude oil and products remains high, with substantial room for consumption growth. Biomass contributes significantly to India's energy supply, making it crucial to convert it into clean bio-energy for energy security and value for public spending.

India's Ethanol Blending Program

India initiated its ethanol blending program in 2003 but made little progress until recently. In 2022, after five years of coordinated policy efforts, the program achieved a significant milestone with 10% ethanol blending in petrol. The government aims to raise this blend to 20% (E20) by FY25-26, five years ahead of schedule.

Challenges Facing India's Ethanol Blending Program

  1. Demand and Supply Issue: Achieving the 2025 target of 20% blending requires substantial investments and a consistent feedstock supply for domestic ethanol production.

  2. Lack of Advanced Blending Facilities: Most of India's ethanol supply comes from first-generation production using sugarcane and grain. Investment in second-generation (2G) ethanol production has been slow, and existing 2G facilities have limited capacity.

  3. Climate Change Concerns: The dominance of first-generation production raises concerns about the food-energy-water nexus and vulnerability to supply shocks due to climate variations.

The Way Forward

  1. Focus on Bio-Fuels and Flex Fuels: Biofuels and flex-fuel vehicles, capable of running primarily on biofuels, can offer a viable alternative to electric vehicles, addressing trade, employment, and economic concerns.

  2. R&D for 2G Ethanol Blending: India must invest in research and development for second-generation ethanol technologies to scale up production effectively.

  3. Targeted Promotion of EVs: Policymakers should promote electric vehicles in public transit and introduce pricing strategies for private vehicles in urban areas to encourage the transition to biofuels.

  4. Water Usage Management: The ethanol policy should prevent farmers from shifting to water-intensive crops, considering India's acute water shortage.


A well-planned strategy to transform India's transportation sector through ethanol blending not only reduces the import bill but also provides the time needed to transition a crucial industry and address the country's energy challenges.

Thank You