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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Ethanol Dependency may Produce Other Environment Distortions. Explore Smart Options like Green Hydrogen

Complex challenges require a whole system approach to make sure the solution doesn’t trigger unforeseen consequences. In keeping with this philosophy, climate change scientists recently joined hands with biodiversity researchers to call for a global policy approach that takes an integrated view of measures to mitigate climate change. The crux of their argument is the problem cannot be dealt with by treating emissions and biodiversity as discrete subjects. They are interrelated and human activities that undermine the climate and lead to biodiversity loss are mutually reinforcing.

This lesson needs to be internalised by GoI in dealing with the challenge of simultaneously improving India’s abysmal air quality and phasing out environmentally damaging agricultural policies. To illustrate, the national policy on fuels aims to blend petrol with ethanol. The target is to increase the ethanol blend from the current level of about 5% to 10% and push it even higher in the second half of the decade. Niti Aayog this month produced a report on the subject. It’s an avoidable idea as ethanol production is heavily reliant on sugarcane, a highly water-intensive crop unsuited to large tracts where it’s grown. A litre of ethanol from sugar requires 3,000 litres of water.

Sugarcane and paddy are two crops that together use 70% of the country’s irrigation water. Policy distortions here have led to rapid depletion of water tables in vast tracts. Moreover, sugar consumption in the country appears to have plateaued, thereby catalysing a big push towards ethanol-blended petrol. Instead, it will make more sense to focus on incentivising R&D in green hydrogen, which is produced from renewable energy and is a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels. In India, a coalition of industrial and energy firms, India H2 Alliance, is working on a transition blueprint. An effort like this needs GoI’s support.

Govt promoters use of ethanol produced from sugarcane and food grains under EBP Programme

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India and was originally posted on


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