What is Ethanol Fuel?
Ethanol Fuel, by definition, is a simple derivative of ethyl alcohol. It is the same stuff that is used in alcoholic beverages. Ethanol fuel is a biofuel used as the primary fuel or in the form of an additive in petrol-powered engines.
Who could have thought, your Friday booze can also power your car?
Ethanol is a common by-product of biomass left by agricultural feedstocks such as corn, sugarcane, hemp (bhaang), potato etc. The United States of America (62.2%) and Brazil (25%) are the top two producers of ethanol in the world.
Fun Fact, the 1978 Fiat 147 was the very first production car to run on pure ethanol fuel.
Ethanol Fuel In India
Ethanol fuel is actually NOT a new thing in India. The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) first proposed ethanol as automotive fuel back in 2003 with initial notification mandating a 5% and 10% blending subsequently.
In 2008 however, in order to curb India’s carbon footprint and future environmental impact, the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy penned down a national policy leading to a target of 20 % blending of bio-ethanol by 2017. This also helped in reducing India’s dependence on Gulf nations for crude oil (India spends around 7 lakh crore on crude oil import). A phased introduction of ethanol biofuel in underway.
Moreover, as per news reports, Brazil and India are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding on production and trade of ethanol. This is done to boost India’s ethanol-petrol blending to upto 20%.
Indigenous motorcycle company TVS has launched the TVS Apache RTR 200 Fi E100, India’s first 100% ethanol-powered motorcycle running on E100, which is pure ethanol fuel. Read more on CarToq here.
What Are The Modification Required To Run Ethanol Fuel?
- The octane rating (113) of ethanol is higher than conventional petrol fuel. Therefore, this allows for an increased compression ratio for better fuel mileage.
This increased compression ratio, however, will cause approximately 20% increased stress to the engine and its components (piston, crank, valves etc.). That is why ethanol-powered engines are manufactured more rigid and bolstered as compared to conventional ones.
- Secondly, ethanol in its purest form i.e E100 has a low heating value, hence an increased flow of ethanol is required to generate the same amount of energy. This leads to major modification in the fuel intake and injector to provide more fuel.
- Third, the RON value (ranges from 0 to 100, and describes the behaviour of the fuel in the engine during combustion) of ethanol is higher, which means that ethanol is more resistant to spontaneous detonation. The use of ethanol requires an additional heating system.
This is the reason why ethanol E100 powered vehicles face trouble starting during colder temperatures. An auxiliary petrol tank is fitted to provide the initial crank.
Can Ethanol Be Used In Diesel Engines?
Yes, to some extent, a 15% blend of ethanol-diesel known as e-diesel can be used to power diesel vehicles. In fact, in Sweden ethanol is used in diesel-powered Scania trucks using ignition booster and lubricant additive.
But, using ethanol in a diesel engine is still not an efficient alternative in comparison to petrol due to its low flash point and safety issues.
Is Ethanol a Sustainable Fuel Source?
Ethanol has been called the “green fuel” or “future fuel” but there have been concerns regarding responsible and sustainable sourcing of ethanol fuel. Ethanol is a plant derivative and a “renewable” energy sources as the production and combustion of ethanol completes a full cycle. When ethanol complete combustion, it releases carbon dioxide and water.
However, some amount of energy is needed to produce ethanol contradicting ethanol as a renewable resource.
What Are The Advantages of Using Ethanol Fuel?
- Ethanol has a higher octane rating than petrol which reduces engine knocking.
- A high octane rating of 113, ethanol is a high-compression, high-performance fuel.
- Ethanol contains more oxygen than petrol thereby burning cleaner and greener.
- Ethanol as a fuel doesn’t break down and leaves fewer to no deposits.
- Ethanol burns cleaner than petrol and has a cleansing effect on the fuel system.
What Are The Challenges For Using Ethanol Fuel In India?
- Ethanol fuel is produced using biomass from agricultural produce thereby having a high dependency on agriculture.
- The ethanol fuel industry also faces challenges due to its impact on agriculture and land use. As farmers will have to clear more lands which will affect the native wildlife.
- Ethanol also finds usage in pharma, beverage and chemical industries hence facing stiff competition from these sectors.
Can Ethanol Save The Internal Combustion Engine Or Electric Is The Future?
To be honest, both ethanol and electric have a myriad of challenges in terms of production, sustainability, impact on ecology and what not.
Electric cars rely on electricity, which is generated by burning coal and lithium-ion batteries which India has an insignificant quantity in reserve. This means increased environmental damage and greater dependence on foreign imports which will lead to forex depletion.
Choosing one over other is a question of what is best for the future of humanity.