A policy on Flex fuel will be announced in a few months, and its introduction will take at least a year, a source who works with a government agency said. Last year it was notified that the E20 fuel (petrol blended with 20% ethanol) programme will come into force from April 1, 2025.
Though not a major technological jump like the shift from BSIV to BSVI, the efforts to be flex fuel-ready wouldn’t be too different either. Varying degrees of engineering intervention would be required in the fuel, electrical, and exhaust systems, and most importantly in the engine. Components like the piston, cylinder block, cylinder head, injectors, fuel rail, to name a few, will have to undergo changes.
“Everything would need a change. In a way, it is a new engine development, so to speak,” C V Raman, CTO and senior ED – engineering, Maruti Suzuki, said in an interview in ETAuto’s discussion series, ‘Target Net Zero’. Raman is also the Chairman of SIAM’s Emissions and Conservation Group.
The corrosive nature of ethanol poses a major challenge to engineers. According to a representative of a global Tier1 major in Brazil, “Flex fuel engines should be developed with a systems approach”. Technology changes and material re-engineering will have a cost implication for Flex fuel vehicles, though not to the extent as was seen in the BSIV to BSVI shift.”
It’s estimated that the additional cost impact could be up to INR 25,000 for cars, and INR 12,000 for two-wheelers, compared to regular petrol vehicles. This may vary depending on factors like raw material price movement, technology cost changes etc. While some of the work can be relatively easier for OEMs in India which also have a presence in Brazil, the largest Flex fuel car market, not everything may work with a plug-and-play approach during the Flex fuel vehicle technology development stage here.
“So far nobody has BSVI Flex fuel. Brazil is currently running at BSIV level of Flex fuel. It will be moving towards BSV in 2022 and more stringent, maybe in 2025,” Raman said.
|Country||Roadmap/ Mandate for ethanol blends||Program||VehicleType|
|Brazil||National policy of Brazil continues the mandate for blending of 18-27.5% of ethanol in gasoline which originally started from 2015.||National biofuels policy(Dec 2017)||Mainly flex. Motorbikes and other two wheeler engines use E27|
|United States||The clean air Act requires EPA to set the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) volume requirements annually.||Renewable fuel standard (RFS) program||Primarily normal; Flex for E30 or E85 only.|
|European Union||EU aims to have 10% of the transport fuel of every EU country come from renewable sources, such as bio-fuels by 2020||Renewable energy directive||Flex and normal|
|China||In September 2017, the Chinese government announced legislation proposing the use of ethanol in fuel for all of China with the target of 10% ethanol blending.||Fuel quality standards||Primarily normal|
|Thailand||Alternative Energy Development Plan (ADEP) targets the share of renewable and alternative energy from biofuel to increase from 7% of total fuel energy use in 2015 to 25% in 2036||ADEP||Primarily normal|
Source: Roadmap for Ethanol Blending in India: 2020-25
As in the period of transition from BSIV to BSVI, the availability of fuel with the right specifications is crucial in the journey towards developing FFVs. Now vehicles are mandated to be E10 compliant, even though the current level of blend is roughly about 8.5%. The 10% blend across the country is expected to be reached this year, and the distribution of E20 fuel could start gradually in 2023.
The industry may also start rolling out E20-compliant vehicles next year. The auto industry looks to the Government for a clear roadmap for the rollout of the necessary grade fuels so that vehicles can be developed and launched accordingly.
According to a Central Government report by an expert committee issued after the E20 notification last year, industry body SIAM ‘has assured the committee that once the roadmap for the availability of ethanol blended fuel in the country is issued by MoP&NG (Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas), the OEMs would gear up to supply compatible vehicles in line with the roadmap’. The Report also states that E10 vehicles with E20-compliant materials may be rolled out across the country from 2023, two years ahead of the introduction of the E20 programme. These vehicles are said to be able to tolerate petrol with a blend of up to 20% Ethanol while giving ‘optimal performance’ with E10 fuel.
|Ethanol Supply Year||Quantity Supplied (crore litres)||Blending %age PSU OMCs|
Source: Roadmap for Ethanol Blending in India: 2020-25
“Major technological changes are needed, and the Flex fuel availability is also going to be a big driver for it. One of the assurances the industry has been getting now is the availability of ethanol,” Reji Mathai, director, Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), said in last week’s episode of ETAuto ‘Target Net Zero’.
Even before the move to Flex fuel, where the ethanol blend is at around 85%, the industry will require a significant amount of ethanol for the successful rollout of the E20 programme from April 2025. An estimated over 1000 crore litres of ethanol would be required to meet the E20 objectives in 2025. India’s ethanol production capacity till a few months ago was at 686 crore litres annually, which is expected to be expanded to 1,500 crore litres. To achieve this production level of ethanol, an estimated 60 lakh tonnes of sugar and 165 lakh tonnes of grains would be required per annum in Ethanol Supply Year (Dec to Nov) 2025.
India imports around 85% of its annual oil requirement, and the bill stood at over USD 62 billion (over INR 4.58 lakh crore) for the last financial year. Around 98% of the road transportation sector is met by fossil fuels. Brazil was also importing around 80% of its crude oil when it started focusing on adopting ethanol as a fuel, in 1973. Its successful transition to ethanol blended fuel, and Flex fuel makes the country a case study for others who plan to adopt biofuels in the energy-mix. In the initial years, Brazil had some disruption in the adoption cycle though.
Adoption of biofuels will help reduce the country’s carbon footprint as well as its dependence on fuel imports. Not to mention the boost to the local economy with the adoption of ethanol. However, there are some trade-offs. Key among them is the fuel economy impact on vehicles due to the lower calorific value of ethanol. The fuel efficiency drop is estimated at 6-7% for cars designed for E0 and calibrated for E10, and 1-2% for cars designed for E10 and calibrated for E20, while using E20. The fuel efficiency difference between an E0 and a Flex fuel car or two-wheeler can be in the range of 30-40%.
The fuel efficiency deficit may not be covered through technological interventions. “Inherently the fuel is going to impact the fuel efficiency, so that needs to be recouped through the commercial aspect,” Raman said. Petrol with higher ethanol content than now, and Flex fuel are expected to attract tax incentives in order to compensate for their lower calorific value. It is possible that the prices of higher ethanol blended fuel, and Flex fuel may be kept lower than petrol.
“There has to be a value proposition for the customers to come to flex fuel. They have to see a cost incentive, and a beneficial total cost of ownership to switch over or to think about it. The manufacturers also will analyse the advantage before they jump into it and offer solutions to them,” Reji Mathai said.
Fiscal incentives like tax incentives on Flex fuel by the Government, would attract consumer interest. If a Flex fuel vehicle can offer more power, torque and higher maximum speed than a petrol-run vehicle with an equivalent engine, there will be a lot of potential.
“There is also a lot of potential because of the carbon neutrality or carbon negativity of the fuel. That is something which I think is important. And therefore, if we have a very clear roadmap of this (fuel roadmap), I think the auto industry will definitely be motivated to do that,” Raman said.
As things get clear, actions in the industry would also gain traction. “I think this would evolve in the period starting from maybe 2023, when the push beyond E10 would start,” Reji Mathai said.
Along with the set of benefits, a clear fuel availability roadmap and a favourable policy can lead to big savings for India, and earnings for the local economy. In Brazil 3.29 billion barrels of petrol was substituted by Ethanol between 1975 and 2020, Plinio Nastari, president, Brazilian Institute of Bioenergy and Bioeconomy, said at a recently-held industry conference. At the current energy consumption pace, another 164 million barrels can be substituted every year without any new investments, he added.
The BRIC countries are among the top 6 users of energy for transportation. India stands at number 4. For India to have the same gains as Brazil, it will have to ensure proper pricing mechanisms to encourage adequate and sustainable cultivation of the crops which serve as raw materials for ethanol production.
Energy needs of E0, E10 car parc
While the Government wants the industry to move to E20, followed by Flex fuels, it will also have to make provisions for the E0 and E10 vehicles in the car parc. Industry players are working with test agencies and oil companies to understand the impact of E20 on the E0 and E10 vehicles.
The industry has highlighted certain potential challenges that may arise, and also recommended approaches that may help preempt problems in the shift to Flex fuel. “For the existing vehicle parc, the fuel hoses and all may get eroded. This should not lead to any trouble for the customer. This is a point of concern and we have flagged it and we are working with the Government,” Raman said.
He added that an option to address the potential problem could be “doing parallel dispensing of the E10 from 2025 for some more years, say up to 2030 or something similar, or till the end of life of the current vehicle parc. Labelling is another issue.”
In Brazil, depending on the vehicles they ride/drive, customers can choose among different blends of ethanol, or Flex fuel in a petrol pump.
Overall, with the move towards higher ethanol blends, Flex fuel will add a new dimension to the automobile industry’s energy mix, which is set to change significantly from what it is today. Policymakers have to lay down well discussed, clear, and sustainable plans to pave the path for the industry’s successful transition.
The industry, which is recouping after the BSVI challenge and also working on an EV roadmap, will have to devise ways to meet the new challenge of a transition to Flex fuel in the ICE vehicle industry. A successful transition to and scaling up of the FFV market could also help enhance the life of the internal combustion engine.