The Centre is pushing automakers to introduce flex-fuel engines which can run on either pure petrol or ethanol.
The central government has for long been advocating the use of ethanol as a greener alternative to conventional fuels in the transportation sector. Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, had previously appealed to carmakers in India to introduce flex fuel engines across their portfolios. In a latest development, the transport minister has revealed that the government will soon be ready to pass orders on the same.
Government gearing up to pass orders to mandate flex fuel engines
E100 to be commercially available within six months
E10 petrol to be available throughout India from 2022
Government to mandate flex-fuel engines in India
At a recent industry event, Gadkari said, "We are committed to delivering vehicles with flex engine. We have taken a decision and will make it mandatory for flex engines to be there, like in Brazil, where there is a choice for customers to use 100 percent petrol or 100 percent bio-ethanol. The technology is readily available and it is time to take the leap. I am looking forward to the Indian auto industry quickly rolling out bio-ethanol compatible vehicles. "
He continued, "Within six months, we are going to issue the order for having flex engines.”
Commenting on the availability of ethanol, he said, “We are already giving permission for opening ethanol pumps at existing PSU and private company petrol pumps. And there will be a choice with the consumer to take petrol or ethanol.” “Ethanol blended fuel cost will be around Rs 65 per litre,” he added.
With government’s grand plans for rolling out ethanol, production will also have to keep pace. “We are expecting 450 new plants for making bio-ethanol. Present production of ethanol is 465 crore litres and we will soon need more than 1,000 crore litres for mixing with petrol. Petroleum companies are ready to make agreements for 10 years for the process of ethanol,” mentioned the minister.
The government recently brought forward the target of introducing E20 fuel to 2023. E20 is essentially petrol blended with 20 percent ethanol. For reference, 80 percent of the country currently receives E10 fuel, with pan India coverage expected by next year. The ultimate aim is to have pure ethanol (E100), with flex-fuel vehicles capable of running on it.
The increased usage of ethanol has several benefits. Firstly, it will reduce India’s oil import bills and make better use of surplus crop production in the country. It is also far less polluting than conventional petrol, thus advancing the cause for the environment as well.
Given that petrol now costs above Rs 100 in most cities, flex-fuel vehicles running on E100, which is pegged at Rs 65 per litre, will be much more cost-effective.
Carmakers with presence in India already offer flex-fuel engines abroad
Flex-fuel engines have been around for quite some time in nations abroad. In fact, ethanol-powered vehicles are very popular in countries like USA, Canada and Brazil in particular. Many brands, which also have a presence in India, already retail flex-fuel vehicles in countries like Brazil and Argentina.
Among mass-market models, for instance, the made-in-India Ford EcoSport, which is exported to South America, is engineered to run on pure ethanol there.
Moreover, the Renault Kwid that is produced in Brazil is quite similar to the India-spec model, save for its flex-fuel capabilities. Then there are the Latin American made Jeep Compass and Volkswagen T-Cross (known as the Taigun in India) which get a different powertrain setup when compared to their Indian counterparts.
As such, brands in India already have access to flex-fuel technology. These engines are essentially similar to regular petrol engines, but use ECU programming and a fuel composition sensor to run on any percentage blend of petrol and ethanol. Plus, they have certain plastic and rubber components specifically engineered to hold up to the corrosive nature of ethanol.
However, rolling out flex-fuel engines will not be as easy. India witnessed sales of 27,11,457 units of cars (most of them petrols) and 1,51,19,387 units of two-wheelers in the April 2020 – March 2021 period. Creating a supply chain to transition all petrol vehicles to flex technology will be a tall order. Additionally, testing, calibrating and homologating vehicles for road use will prove to be a monumental exercise for automakers, who are already finding it hard to keep up with upcoming emission regulations like CAFE 2 and RDE.
Still, the prospect of a cleaner environment is something we can all look forward to.