Ethanol as a fuel

Was listening to this explainer on Ethanol as a fuel by IndiaDataHub a while ago.

Did not realize that the carbon released due to ethanol as a fuel might be higher than fossil fuels due to cultivation practices and fertilizer usage.

Would love to hear from folks here if you have any thoughts on if the push for Ethanol might be beneficial or not.

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I am unsure of the environmental benefits, but the math on the fiscal benefit is very simple.

Ethanol blending directly improves our balance of payments (export payments vs import receipts) situation. Ok, maybe because we don’t directly import petrol, and process crude to get it the math may still not be straightforward but can think of it as a 20% reduction in import costs attributable to petrol. :slight_smile:

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And the government is doing whatever it takes to ensure that the blending targets are reached.

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Should have maybe clarified that this question was more from a climate lens and not economic angle. :sweat_smile:

I know, I know. But the primary driver I feel for the government was economic to get this rolling. This initially came when sugar companies were struggling to pay farmers because they had to pay MSP but sales were not great. Now, sugar companies have a built-in MSP for themselves too via the ethanol option.

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Hi Dinesh
Non edible industrial byproducts or waste products can be used to generate ethanol by enzymatic action and fermentation process .
But this process needs separate built in capacity, investment and time which many industries are not willing to invest . ( as ethanol is highly flammable it also comes with its own safety concerns)
Definitely food crops converting to ethanol will not be sustainable option .

But city wise collecting degradable wastes, setting up safe manufacturing facility and technology to process them to ethanol and other biproducts can solve both waste and ethanol problem to some extent. ( But it needs deep research and time)

Also count me in for any technical queries !:slight_smile:


Thanks Smitha for this.

I was in touch with a team working on biogas. Let me check with them on if they have thought about this and will ask them to post their thoughts here. :slight_smile:

Hello @Pai , I’m sure you’d know about these guys based out of Bangalore but putting this across anyway

They might have some insights on what you’re looking for.

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I spoke to Carbon Masters team as well about this. Here are their views,

However, as far as we understand, bio-ethanol production from municipal solid waste/food waste has been attempted but hasn’t been commercialized, given the relatively low production efficiency. Given the steep ethanol blending targets set by Govt of India (20% blending with petrol for transport), high volume and cost effective production of ethanol is the goal and hence sugarcane and agri-based ethanol production seems the dominant approach in India currently.

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Hi @SmithaDP,

How feasible is food waste to produce ethanol.
What I mean is, what are the different types of ethanol available or produced and how different is it when the raw material changes and if they change in quality, which is the best one and can food waste be used to produce it?

Hello Philip,
It is not feasible yet compared to agri waste input. Still lot of research is required.
I have tried to make chart for food waste and agri waste .

  1. As mentioned by Dinesh , if we focus only on ethanol , it may not be scalable solutions .
  2. As food waste has high moisture fat and protein , they should also be converted to value added products .
  3. separation of startch and fiber from food waste is difficult if we want to focus only on ethanol.
  4. Basically degradation of entire food waste to simple molecules and fractionating them is still a challenging task .

Hi Smitha,

I understand the point you are trying to make here, with the numbers you have posted, agricultural waste is much more feasible for manufacturing of ethanol due to no presence of fat in it, with the food waste, if we take the 60% water out, we are still left with 40% of other components in it…can’t they be used as a source to something which is different from ethanol.

Just read this article from Finshots. Would anyone have data on how much cleaner Ethanol is compared to other biofuels? Wanted to understand the footprint for Ethanol as well.

More context here - Economics of Biofuels | US EPA

As per the data collected from farmers of Maharashtra using flood irrigation and tap groundwater in the cultivation of sugarcane alone through which ethanol is produced and tallying all of the inputs for the production including seeds, labor, machinery, fuel, fertilizer, water, electricity and transportation, ethanol produced from sugarcane has a positive net energy value. But there is scope for improvement in the efficiency of ethanol production since the surplus energy per litre of ethanol is reported to be only 40%.

Irrigation consumes about 56% of the fossil energy input.
Fertilizers about 40%
Sugarcane transport about 2%
Mechanized agriculture ( tractors) about 3%

About 9MJ of fossil energy is used for pumping the water for irrigation alone since sugarcane is highly dependent on irrigation.

Net energy value of ethanol reduces from 6 MJ/liters to 1.5 MJ/liters if irrigation energy is increased by 50%.

Gain in net energy value is negligible even with increase in cane productivity by 50% due to additional fertilizer application.

Irrigation and the use of fertilizer needs to be optimized to enhance the net energy value of ethanol production from sugarcane.


Our BBMP buses still run on it!

Saw this video on biofuels, in general should we be very skeptical of biofuels? The reason being they will often shift environmental burdens towards land-use related impacts.

Looking at the En-Roads model which is a climate simulation model developed by a non profit think tank and diving into the bioenergy toggle-

Some feedstocks can be sustainable and others can be worse than burning coal.

Carbon capture and storage technology could be used with bioenergy (BECCS) but it is not yet used widely and faces barriers to deployment.

There’s a new release on improved bioenergy modelling on En-Roads where we get to see a little bit of overall effects of bioenergy.

It seems to be not a high leverage response to climate change while it uses potentially renewable resources, it still emits large amounts of carbon dioxide and faces supply constraints with scale up. Guess bioenergy is only zero carbon if the biomass is regrown to account for the carbon emitted. Also this may not be guaranteed and in some areas bioenergy is produced from trees which take decades to regrow to make up for the carbon released when burned.

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