Rishi Rathod throws light on alternative sources for fuel, the adoption and promotion of which will go a long way in making India eco-friendly
Today, every country is doing something to reduce the impact of economic activities, find ways to go greener, and help our environment heal. For us, the biggest challenge is the fuel that we use for transportation and other economic activities related to it. The emerging new technology that we are going to capitalise on to have a great impact in this regard is biofuels.
India is spending more than ₹8,00,000 crore every year on petrol, diesel, and other petroleum products. At the same time, these forms of fuel are creating maximum pollution hazardous for human health. With the advent of ethanol-biofuel, the scenario is changing. Ethanol is a type of alcohol, like methanol. Throughout human history, various kinds of alcohol have been used to fuel engines. The reason why everybody is interested in ethanol today is that it can be created from biomass, which means crops like sugarcane and corn can be used to generate fuel that can burn in your car and power it.
The following are a few unique advantages of ethanol, bio-CNG, and bio-gas, and how they will be a game-changer for India:
When petroleum products such as gasoline are burned for energy, they release toxic gases and high amounts of carbon dioxide into the environment, which adversely affects our climate. Unlike petrol, ethanol mixed with petrol adds less or very little greenhouse gases such as CO2 or carbon monoxide. However, the combustion of ethanol made from biomass (such as corn and sugarcane) is considered atmospheric carbon-neutral because, as the biomass grows, it absorbs CO2, which may offset the CO2 produced when the ethanol is burned. It is much cleaner than using only petrol or diesel.
Emergence of a new industry
As ethanol production increases in the country, it will generate and support many families engaged in agriculture, production, and distribution. In India, we are mostly using sugarcane for making ethanol. The greens from the biomass which were wasted earlier are now being effectively used for this purpose.
Currently, our ethanol production is 335 crore litres for 2021. Our target is to reach a 20 per cent ethanol blend by 2030, which means we will increase the production by three times. This will help generate employment among the rural youth and help develop new technology for the use of ethanol as a fuel. Minister Nitin Gadkari has taken this up as a front-line project, and policies are being formulated. In the coming months and years, more entrepreneurs and even farmers will get into producing ethanol. Even the car manufacturers are asked to create a flex engine that supports the higher ethanol blend.
If we talk about the current situation, then around 5500 petrol pumps in the country are serving the ethanol blend, of which people are still unaware. The number of petrol pumps will only increase in the coming days.
Foreign exchange reserves balance
In India, where petrol and diesel are expensive, ethanol becomes one of the great saviours on many grounds. We import nearly 85 per cent of our crude oil, which costs us billions in foreign exchange reserves each year. As per The Economic Times, November 30, 2021, India has managed to save precious foreign exchange outgo worth ₹9,580 crore in the last one year thanks to the use of ethanol-blended petrol (EBP) in transport. As the level of ethanol goes up in the blend, so will the savings for the country and earning opportunities for various stakeholders like farmers, entrepreneurs, etc.
Lesser dependency on oil will relieve us from huge foreign reserve management. Money saved is money earned. The savings on foreign exchange can be used for other big or small projects that the government undertakes or can be used for expansion work. According to Minister Nitin Gadkari, “When we will use 20 per cent blend of bioethanol, the country will be able to save ₹30,000 crore on the import of fossil fuels.” The target is to achieve this by 2030.
Crops are considered a renewable source of energy, which means when we run out of corn or sugarcane, we can grow more of it. Therefore, we can keep generating a bigger source of ethanol. And this is the best part of ethanol production. The raw material that is used for making it is abundantly available in India. The leftover from sugarcane farming, the agricultural waste that remains after farming and harvesting, or the greens from farming that are not fit for human consumption can be used as raw material. For example, grains such as maize, barley, and sorghum (jowar) have some part that is either used for manure or thrown away as waste.
All this waste will provide economical help to farmers. This, in turn, will support the small and medium scale industry that will produce ethanol. Even the dry grass which is either wasted or burned can be used for ethanol production. Every year in Punjab and Haryana, stubble burning adds to the level of pollution in the air. Once we have the right infrastructure in place, this can be taken care of.
Apart from this, every year, some crops are overproduced, and we just dump them because the supply is so high that it doesn’t make economic sense to sell them in the market. (The buying rates will be so low that it won’t work for millions of farmers to survive). Hundreds of tonnes of agricultural waste are created like this and dumped. All of this or most of this can be used for producing ethanol.
Bio-CNG and Biogas
While growing up, we never thought sewage waste or human excreta could be used for fuel one day. But today, technology has made it possible to even re-use human excreta. It can be used for producing biogas, whereas sewage water helps with producing bio-CNG. The fundamental technology remains the same. To put it in simple terms, human excreta or sewage water goes through a multiple filtration system called bio-digestive chambers. Inside the chamber, due to anaerobic fermentation with the help of methanogenic bacteria, biogas is produced. Similarly, with sewage water going through the chamber, methane gas is separated, and from methane, CO2 can be separated by which bio-CNG is delivered.
The financial support that these alternatives can bring to the urban as well as rural population is huge.
These successful and profitable ventures have already started. Almost 80 per cent of municipal buses are run on bio-CNG in Nagpur city, Maharashtra, as stated by Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. He also stated that every year, they are getting more than 100 crores in royalties from the Maharashtra government for giving them Nagpur city’s sewage water, which is converted into bio-CNG fuel. This will save us millions of USD in the coming months and years. Similarly, the recycling and reuse of human excreta for biogas generation is an important way to get rid of health hazards from human excreta, especially for the rural population, where hygiene is a big concern. Biogas is utilised for cooking (its most efficient use), lighting mantle lamps, electricity generation, and body-warming during winter.
Ethanol biofuel, bio-CNG, and biogas will help India save on foreign exchange reserves and reduce pollution, farm waste, and excess greens. We get cleaner energy alternatives for the country and, additionally, a new sector comes into existence, by which job creation and new technological development will take place. This is the import-substitute-cost effective-pollution-free-indigenous-green energy of new India. Nitin Gadkari rightly calls this “Waste-to-wealth creation.”
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