March 30, 2023

Flex Fuel | Exploring Benefits of Ethanol Adoption in Vehicles

 Whether it is Indycar racing, NASCAR, or Top Fuel Dragster normal petrol can not be used to drive all the cars used in these racing events. To drive these cars such fuel is needed, and the base ingredient found in every alcoholic beverage is ethanol. This drinkable ethanol is used in these super-fast cars because it is produced from grains and sugarcane. From which hangover drinks are made and it is also highly flammable like petrol nowadays.

Flex Fuel | Ethanol Production | AutoExpo2023 | Flex Fuel Vehicle | Flex Engine

Ethanol is being discussed everywhere because it can also be used to drive normal passenger vehicles like race cars, and ethanol is considered to be a fuel that can reduce the dependency on countries like India, which imports crude oil in huge quantities. Middle Eastern countries have surplus crude oil and it is important because their dependency on India for crude oil imports is increasing yearly.

What is Flex Engine?

During the year 2022-23, the demand for crude oil in India increased by 73% and a bill of $ 90 Billion was to be paid by India. All this is happening because the number of car owners in India is increasing every year. That's the reason Shri Nitin Gadkari said in an interview,” In a span of about 6 months, Every petrol engine in India whether it is a two-wheeler, three-wheeler, and four-wheeler will consist of a flex engine”. To elaborate on what Shri Nitin Gadkari said the flex-fuel engines about which Shri Nitin Gadkari mentioned are also Internal Combustion Engines just like any normal car or motorcycle which are visible on Indian roads. 

But the Flex-fuel engines differ in such a way that these can use flex-fuel for their operation which means a fuel that has both petrol and ethanol mixed in some proportion In India, currently, all the vehicles run on E10 petrol which means fuel that has 10% ethanol And 90% of petrol and you must have heard about E10 petrol earlier. But the Indian government wants that In the next couple of years, E20 fuel should be used in all vehicles Which will consist of 20% ethanol and 80% petrol E20 petrol is now available in some selected firms in some states of India. It is being claimed that flex-fuel will cause less air pollution and the dependency of India on foreign crude oil would reduce which is right in some sense. 

What are the benefits of using Flex Fuel?

But some more facts should not be ignored when we are already promoting electric vehicles, hydrogen, and hybrid vehicles so much what is the need for this flex fuel? And how would it be beneficial? And how flex fuel can again increase the prices of vehicles in India and how the environment would be impacted after the heavy usage of ethanol.

History of Ethanol Flex-Fuel Engine

First of all, let's understand why ethanol is getting promoted before that let's understand, the history of vehicles driven by ethanol cars driven by flex-fuel was introduced about 100 years ago. Ford Model T, which was developed between the years 1908 and 1927, was capable of moving with ethanol-blended petrol and this car consisted of an adjustable jetting carburetor which made it possible for the car to drive with ethanol-blended petrol. Apart from Ford, other car manufacturers also started doing the same but for almost half a century petrol was very cheap. Hence the automotive manufacturers did not find it economical to use ethanol-blended petrol But due to the occurrence of the oil crisis in the year 1973 there was a shortage of petrol and after this many countries started realizing that oil dependency was not good for any country's economy. Since then the concept of flex-fuel has started getting promoted but still, it has not come into the limelight because till now, even after the shortage, Petrol was available in surplus quantity and till now Global Warming has been a myth. 

Since the beginning of the 21st century countries started realizing the importance of flex-fuel and global warming was the major reason behind this which has now become the reality. In August 2018, American Coalition for Ethanol published a research paper According to which E85 Flex fuel, Emits about 50% fewer greenhouse gases as compared to petrol this E85 flex fuel, consists of 85% ethanol and 15% petrol due to this countries like Brazil, Canada, Sweden, and the U.S. produced vehicles that can run on E85 flex fuel or 100% ethanol very long ago. While the U.S. was the only country that produces ethanol the most the U.S. does not use the ethanol produced in the automobile sector this is done by Brazil.

Brazil might be the 2nd largest producer of flex-fuel in the whole world but Brazil is the largest consumer of flex-fuel in the automotive industry. In the year 2018, 27 million cars were in Brazil, which means more than 73% of the total cars in Brazil were driving via ethanol-blended petrol Now the biggest question arises, Why only Brazil? That is because, When there was a fuel crisis all over the globe Brazil too was affected by the fuel crisis. But Brazil had an advantage that was only present in Brazil and that was Sugarcane. Sugarcane is such a crop from which Ethanol can be extracted since sugarcane is composed of starch and sugar.

How Ethanol is Produced?

If we look into the basics of this process and try to understand this process from the basics then this process includes, harvesting the sugar and firstly extraction of juice from it The sugarcane juice is then fermented. In the process of Fermentation, CO2 gas is emitted from this sugarcane juice In a very huge number and after this, the obtained product is sent for distillation finally, ethanol is developed. Ethanol can be extracted from other grains as well like corn and America produces a major portion of ethanol from corn. Now Brazil obtained an advantage from sugarcane because it is the world's biggest producer of sugarcane. Brazil has been producing sugarcane in huge quantities since the 16th century. To manufacture sugar from it and export it as well. 

Why is the Indian Government Pushing Flex Fuel?

This advantage of the heavy production of sugarcane is also present in India Like Brazil, India also produces sugarcane in huge quantities. While today, India is ranked 2nd in the whole world for the production of sugarcane. 

But till now, the major portion of the sugarcane harvested in India has been used for the production of sugar. Nowadays, India is producing a very huge quantity of sugar a major portion of the sugar produced is kept unused. India has been producing surplus sugar from the year 2010 which means we are producing sugar more than what is required since sugar is available in surplus quantity in India. Due to this reason, the Indian government wants to benefit from this and the Indian government is promoting flex fuel so much The Indian government has set a target for the year 2025 To make E20 fuel compulsory for all vehicles. In December 2022, SIAM, (Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers) addressing an event organized by SIAM the road and Transport Minister of India Shri Nitin Gadkari said that every year the prices of crude oil fluctuate Which causes a lot of trouble and that's why we must move towards 100% flex-fuel vehicles. That is a clear indication that the Indian government is very interested in this flex fuel, especially Shri Nitin Gadkari.

TVS Apache RTR 200 FI E100

The TVS Apache RTR 200 FI E100: A High-Performance Motorcycle with Ethanol Fuel Capability.

The TVS Apache RTR 200 FI E100 is a motorcycle that runs on Ethanol and has the following specifications:

  • Fuel Type: Ethanol
  • Engine: 197.75cc, single-cylinder, 4-stroke, oil-cooled Si 4 valve

  • Power output: 21 bhp @ 8,500 rpm
  • Torque: 18.1 Nm @ 7,000 rpm
  • Fuel system: Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) with twin-spray-twin-port system
  • Fuel tank capacity: 12 liters
  • Brakes: 300mm petal disc with ABS (front), 240mm petal disc (rear)
  • Suspension: Telescopic fork (front), mono-shock (rear)
  • Tires: 90/90-17 (front), 130/70-17 (rear)
  • Transmission: 5-speed gearbox
  • Kerb Weight: 153 kg
  • Top speed: 129 km/h
  • Price: INR 1.2 lakh as of February 2023.

Flex Fuel Vehicle showcased in 2023 AutoExpo India

In October 2022, Shri Nitin Gadkari Launched India's first flex-fuel stock hybrid car, the Corolla Altis, this car was introduced in India as a pilot project vehicle and TATA MOTORS flaunted their GTI Engines in the Auto Expo 2023, these engines can also support flex fuel which is E20 which is by the new Indian norms and also Maruti showcased its all-new the TVS Apache RTR bike which runs on Ethanol Flex Fuel. Bajaj also launched its bike Bajaj Pulsar NS160 Ethanol Flex Fuel.

Now we have understood the two major benefits of flex-fuel.

1. The first is the reduction in carbon emissions. 

2. The second and crucial advantage is self-reliance on fuel production.

3. The third benefit would be from the forex reserves In the financial year 2022, India spent $ 119 Billion To purchase crude oil India used the major portion of its forex reserves to import oil and petroleum products. But ethanol blending can reduce this spending and we have already observed its proof when the target of E10 flex fuel was achieved by India. Then, in August 2022, Shri Narendra Modi said that In the past 6-7 years, India has saved more than $ 6 Billion of its forex reserves, and after the full usage of E20 fuel more than $ 4 Billion in forex reserves would be saved annually and the energy demand in India is going to shoot up very rapidly in the coming years.

That's why it is important to become self-reliant in the energy sector 

4. The Fourth and last benefit of Ethanol production is employment. As we have just discussed, Ethanol can be extracted from crops like sugarcane. This would increase the earnings of the farmers and the rural economy would also grow. Because for the production of Ethanol, plants would be set up in rural areas and workers would be needed for the proper operation of these plants.

Negative impacts of Flex Fuel

But there also exist some negative impacts in the production of ethanol from sugarcane The first and the biggest negative impact is the water crisis According to a report published by the Niti Aayog To produce a liter of ethanol from sugarcane 2860 liters of water are needed. Apart from this, In July 2020, a research paper was published according to which, to complete the target of E20 ethanol-blended petrol set for the year 2025, 1320 Million tons of sugarcane would be needed. Which will require additional 19 Million Hectares of Land and an additional 348 Billion cubic meters of water would be required. If you look into this very closely then these are huge numbers to increase the production of ethanol the production of sugarcane has to be increased and ultimately high sugarcane production could become the reason for water pollution. Because the fertilizers and slit emitted from the sugarcane farms and sugar mills would pollute the freshwater ecosystem.

Today, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Mesoamerican Reef in Brazil Pollutants are getting dumped which is polluting the coral ecosystem. By the way, India is very behind in the production of ethanol even though, India produces a surplus amount of sugarcane the major portion of the sugarcane produced is consumed as sugar and today India is standing 13th in the world in the production of ethanol. But as soon as the production of ethanol would increase the third bigger problem would also arise which is food security.

Food Security due to ethanol extraction

India produces 84% of its ethanol from sugarcane 10% from rice And the rest from corn In December 2022, in India, The retail inflation of rice was 10.5% and that of corn was 17.5% But when the dependency on transportation on ethanol would increase India has to use a major portion of its crops in the production of ethanol which will eventually lead to more inflation. However, the Indian government is trying to produce ethanol from various raw materials Like Parali, sugar, wheat, potatoes, etc. But the success would only be known in the coming years. 

There is one more major problem with ethanol which is not linked to our food but is linked to your pocket. Today, a liter of ethanol costs INR 65, and INR 97-98 for a liter of petrol. Hence, ethanol is about INR 32-33 cheaper than petrol and this is a huge difference. But the per molecular energy of ethanol is less than that of petrol therefore to obtain the same amount of energy about 1.6 Litres of ethanol is to be burned. While 1 Litre of petrol can produce exactly the same amount of energy and if we observe in this way, Then, the price difference between ethanol and petrol would be very less and your pocket would not be impacted highly. It could be slightly expensive but another thing that can make a hole in your pockets is the development of flex-fuel engines by the automotive Manufacturers for the E20 petrol. 

The major changes the automotive Manufacturers have to make in the engine are a change in the material of the engine to protect it from corrosion by ethanol and a change in the injection system of the vehicles Due to this, the cars which are already very expensive. Due to heavy taxes and the BS6 upgradations Will become even more expensive. An extra load would also be imposed on the automotive Manufacturers because they are already investing huge capital in the Research and Development of electric and hybrid vehicles and they have to invest highly in the production of upgraded BS6 engines. In the end, all these expenses would be extracted from the consumers.

What are the Indian Models of Ethanol Flex Fuel

Currently, there are a few Flex Fuel vehicles available in India, including the TVS Apache RTR 200 FI E100 and some models from Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors. As more car manufacturers enter the Flex Fuel market and the government continues to provide incentives for clean energy adoption, Flex Fuel technology will likely become more widespread in India in the coming years.


By now you must have understood that Flex fuel has both advantages and serious disadvantages. But the benefit is mainly focused on the reduction of the dependency on fossil fuels because at the end of the day, emissions would not stop from the Tailpipe and as mentioned previously the mileage of any vehicle drops due to ethanol because more amount of ethanol is to be consumed by the engine, to produce the same amount of power and due to this, the tailpipe emissions would not reduce in huge numbers. Because in the end, you are burning more flex-fuel in comparison to petrol. 

Do let me know your thoughts about this flex fuel, According to you what things could improve due to this flex fuel? And in what ways the flex fuel would be beneficial to Indians?

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