For a long time, the federal government has promoted the use of ethanol as a greener alternative to conventional transportation fuels. Nitin Gadkari, India’s Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways, had previously urged automakers to include flex-fuel engines in their lineups. In a recent development, the transport minister stated that the government will be ready to issue orders on the subject in the near future.

Government plans to make flex-fuel engines mandatory

“We are committed to delivering vehicles with flex-fuel engines,” Gadkari said at a recent industry event. We’ve made a decision and will make flex engines mandatory, just as they are in Brazil, where customers can choose between 100 percent gasoline and 100 percent bio-ethanol. The technology is readily available, and now is the time to go for it.

“Within six months, we will issue the order for having flex engines,” he continued.

“We are already giving permission for the opening of ethanol pumps at existing PSU and private company petrol pumps,” he said when asked about the availability of ethanol. The consumer will be able to choose between gasoline and ethanol.” He added, “Ethanol blended fuel will cost around Rs 65 per litre.”

With the government’s ambitious plans for ethanol deployment, production will have to keep up. The current ethanol production capacity is 465 million litres, but we will soon require more than 1,000 million litres for mixing with gasoline. 

Ethanol deployment plans are in the works

The government recently pushed back the deadline for implementing E20 fuel to 2023. E20 is essentially gasoline that has been blended with 20% ethanol. For context, E10 fuel is currently available in 80% of the country, with pan-India coverage expected by next year. The ultimate goal is to have pure ethanol (E100) that can be used in flex-fuel vehicles.

The increased use of ethanol has a number of advantages. To begin with, it will lower India’s oil import bills and make better use of the country’s surplus crop production. It is also far less polluting than conventional gasoline, furthering the environmental cause.

Automobile manufacturers in India already offer flex-fuel engines in other countries

Flex-fuel engines have been around for a long time in other countries. In fact, ethanol-powered vehicles are extremely popular in countries such as the United States, Canada, and Brazil. In countries like Brazil and Argentina, many brands that have a presence in India are already selling flex-fuel vehicles.

For example, the Ford EcoSport, which is manufactured in India and exported to South America, is designed to run on pure ethanol there.

Furthermore, with the exception of its flex-fuel capabilities, the Renault Kwid produced in Brazil is very similar to the India-spec model. Then there is the Jeep Compass and the Volkswagen T-Cross (known as the Taigun in India) made in Latin America, which have a different powertrain setup than their Indian counterparts.

As a result, flex-fuel technology is already available in India. These engines are essentially the same as regular petrol engines, but they run on any percentage blend of petrol and ethanol thanks to ECU programming and a fuel composition sensor. They also have plastic and rubber components that are specifically designed to withstand the corrosive nature of ethanol.