As the search for alternate feedstock sources for ethanol production gathers pace, ICAR-Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI) finds cassava (tapioca) as a promising raw material for bioethanol production to meet India’s Ethanol Blending Petrol (EBP) programme target of 2025.
Sajeev MS, Principal Scientist, Crop Utilisation Division, ICAR-CTCRI, said cassava with its high starch content and ability to grow under low management conditions has been globally recognised as a potential candidate for bioethanol production.
However, he added that the economic viability for the scale-up production from cassava varieties has to be ascertained taking into account the reported failure of an alcohol plant set up in Palakkad in the late 1990s.
There are a number of comparative advantages for cassava as a biofuel crop vis-à-vis sugarcane. Its starch with its unique physico-chemical and functional properties finds extensive applications in the food and industrial sectors. The agricultural residues of cassava such as peels, stems and leaves are potential feedstock for 2G bioethanol production.
Tapioca production is estimated at 4.98 million tonnes with major production from Tamil Nadu, followed by Kerala. Expansion of cultivation is taking place to non-traditional areas like Maharashtra to meet the projected demand for starch in the coming decade, he said.
The National Policy on Biofuels 2018 ensures the availability of biofuels to meet the demand of 20 per cent ethanol produced from molasses, sugarcane juices, biomass in form of grasses and agricultural residues, sugar-containing materials such as sugar beet, sweet sorghum, etc, or starch-containing materials such as corn, rotten potatoes, cassava, and damaged food grains, he said.
India has to produce 1,016 crore litres of ethanol for blending programmes apart from 334 crore litres for other uses as part of the EBP target by 2025. But the current ethanol production capacity is 426 crore litres from sugarcane-based distilleries and 258 crore litres from grain-based distilleries. To meet the target of 1,350 crore litres, production has to be increased to 760 crore litres from molasses and 740 crore litres from grain-based distilleries.
This necessitates the search for alternative feedstock, Sajeev said, adding that there is a huge gap between the available ethanol and its projected demand in the transportation sector.
The Kerala Government is also mulling the possibility of producing alcohol from cassava. Though CTCRI has developed novel enzyme technology for the production of ethanol from cassava starch/flour, he said there is a need for a pilot study for analysing its economic viability.
The oversupply of tubers in Kerala due to the widespread cultivation of cassava under the Subiksha Keralam project has caused a market glut. There is a need for exploring new ways to help farmers to get a remunerative price and to reduce post-harvest loss, he added.