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This Indian refinery all set to produce ethanol from bamboo

As oil prices rise sharply, the world's first ethanol production refinery project from bamboo with a daily capacity of 30,000 litres is to be built in India

This Indian refinery all set to produce ethanol from bamboo

As oil prices rise sharply, the world's first ethanol production refinery project from bamboo with a daily capacity of 30,000 litres is to be built in India, following an agreement signed between a Hyderabad-based company and a farmers' company in Maharashtra's Latur.

This will not just offer ethanol at competitive prices, but also provide livelihood opportunities to farmers who can grow bamboo for the plant. Also, at present, the Centre has committed to blend 20 per cent ethanol with petrol by 2025. This creates a huge opportunity for using bamboo-based ethanol.

The agreement for the ethanol refinery project was signed between Nagarjuna Group, Hyderabad and Lodga Bamboo Industries in Latur district between Dr Banibrata Pande for Nagarjuna Group and Pasha Patel on behalf of the Lodga Bamboo Industries.

The project is the realisation of efforts over the last four years to promote bamboo as the key resource for livelihood security for famers and global climate resilience.

The technology jointly developed by the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and Nagarjuna Industries makes it possible to set up medium scale bamboo-based ethanol plants in the country with an investment of Rs65 crore each. As many as 60,000 tonnes of bamboo grown over 1,500 acres would be required annually to meet the raw material requirements of this plant.

Underlining the importance of bamboo as a cash crop for farmers, Patel, a farmers' leader and former member of Legislative Council, said: "Although first harvest of bamboo can be taken only after year three of plantation, farmers can take intercrops during the first two years. Bamboo truly lives up to its identity as 'green gold'. This year itself, more than 10,000 farmers in Maharashtra have planted bamboo on nearly 15,000 acres."

Bamboo will contribute to carbon sequestration during its growth and due to non-burning of fossil fuels, carbon emission will be drastically reduced. Use of bamboo for ethanol production also serves to conserve ground water. Unlike sugarcane, the most common material currently used to manufacture ethanol, bamboo requires only one fifth of water compared to water required for growing sugarcane.

There are plans to set up bamboo-based ethanol plants in partnership with Nagarjuna Industries in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and other states too.

India is 83 per cent dependent on imports for meeting its oil needs. Doping petrol with ethanol will cut down the import requirement. Also, ethanol being less polluting fuel, it will cut down carbon emissions.

As much as 4 billion litres of ethanol will be needed for achieving 10 per cent mixing ratio. "To achieve 20 per cent blending by 2025, 1,000 crore litres will be needed. At current prices, it is worth Rs 60,000 crore to Rs 65,000 crore," Patel added. The move to raise ethanol content in petrol will also provide an alternate source of revenue for sugar mills and help them clear farm dues.

Immense benefits can accrue to the country by 20 per cent ethanol blending by 2025, such as saving Rs 30,000 crore of foreign exchange per year, energy security, lower carbon emissions, better air quality, self-reliance, use of damaged foodgrains, increasing farmers' incomes, employment generation, and greater investment opportunities.

Currently, 8.5 per cent of ethanol is blended with petrol in India. In order to introduce vehicles that are compatible the committee recommends roll out of E20 material-compliant and E10 engine-tuned vehicles from April 2023 and production of E20-tuned engine vehicles from April 2025.

There is an estimated loss of six-seven per cent fuel efficiency for four wheelers and three-four per cent for two wheelers when using E20. These vehicles are originally designed for E0 and calibrated for E10.

India's net import of petroleum was 185 Mt at a cost of $551 billion in 2020-21. Most of the petroleum products are used in transportation. Hence, a successful E20 program can save the country $4 billion per annum, i.e. Rs 30,000 crore. Besides, ethanol is a less polluting fuel, and offers equivalent efficiency at lower cost than petrol.

Availability of large arable land, rising production of foodgrains and sugarcane leading to surpluses, availability of technology to produce ethanol from plant based sources, and feasibility of making vehicles compliant to ethanol blended petrol make E20 a national imperative.

Sydelle Fernandes
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