Vol. 5 Num 694 Sat. May 13, 2006  
Letters to Editor

Crop based ethanol and bio diesel

In the context of the global rise in oil price and its consequences on our economy, I wonder whether government is considering agro-based solutions like ethanol mixes or bio diesel. Even the current US administration, perceived to be leaning towards the oil lobby, has given corn based ethanol a serious thought in the recent times. According to a report from Worldwatch Institute, Brazil, world's largest producer of ethanol (slightly ahead of US), has saved $50 billion in imported oil costs in the last three and a half decades. Brazil, unlike the US, produces ethanol from sugarcane and has taken several steps ranging from subsidising sugarcane farming during global drops in oil price to promoting flex-fuel vehicles (running on both gasoline and e85, a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline).

The above data points out that ethanol will not only be helpful in reducing our oil dependence, it can also boost our agriculture by providing opportunities for crop diversification as well as a larger market for our existing crops. Neighbouring India, has ranked fourth in the list of world's top ethanol producers, using not only sugarcane but also cassava as a source of ethanol. France ferments wheat to make ethanol.

Additional plus points about ethanol lies in its ability to use existing distribution infrastructure. Moreover, at least gasoline engines can be converted into dual fuel (gasoline and gasohol mix) engines without much trouble. Ten to thirty percent ethanol mixed with petrol can be used without any conversion at all. For diesel engines, a common phenomenon in our trucks, we can think about other forms of sustainable agro-based fuels, e.g., bio-diesel from soybean, which can be used with almost no modification in diesel engines. These might as well open up some opportunities for our Dholai Khal techs!

The usual downsides of using ethanol fuel in the west, for example, need for an extra cold start system, or slight reduction in mileage, are non-existent or of not much trouble in our country. Also, the labour intensive nature of our farming will keep the cost low and the production less energy intensive compared to the west.

I see no harm, at least in exploring these opportunities, if not done already by some of our innovative souls.