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Powering up on biofuel

Powering up on biofuel
The government's move towards a mandatory blending of petrol with ethanol, pegging the target at five per cent, is a step in the right direction. The addition of ethanol to petrol will help control the wild fluctuations in the prices of petroleum while also adding to the country's energy security. At present, petrol prices are hostage to price volatility in the international markets. The important characteristic of ethanol is that it is a renewable energy source that can be made from  crops such as sugarcane, potato and corn. The sources that are  the cheapest and commonest in India are natural raw materials such as sugarcane juice or molasses which can  be replenished without dependence of fossil fuels. The use of this fuel will therefore help reduce India's need for fossil fuels. Ethanol, when blended with petrol, has already been tried successfully and is used as a fuel in Brazil and the United States, with the blend in the former being as much as about 25 per cent ethanol and 75 per cent petrol. There is, thus, a good case for using ethanol as a fuel. Petroleum is one of the most precious natural energy resources, but it is not readily found in India in large quantities. However, with India growing at a fast pace, the demand for oil is set to rise. It is projected that India, along with China, will account for 45 per cent of the increase in global primary energy demand by 2030, which will significantly add to its bill unless alternative fuels are used. As it is, India is becoming a significant consumer of energy resources, with its oil consumption rising to such an extent that it become the world's fourth largest consumer of oil.

The case for using ethanol as a fuel is further strengthened by the fact that India is also the fourth largest producer of this biofuel in the world. It is estimated that by blending petrol with up to 10 per cent biofuel, 80 million litres of petrol could be saved annually in India. Ethanol has other advantages. It is is environment-friendly as it enhances combustion of petrol, resulting in a lower emission of pollutants. It also improves engine performance. Since, in India, ethanol is derived as a by-product of the conversion of sugarcane to sugar, it does not compromise on the food security front by taking away land from food crops. Therefore, the government should implement this decision at the earliest.
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