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Chemical industry worried over ethanol-blending plan

Rahul Wadke

`With production shortfall alternative sources must be encouraged'


Industry reaction Even without the ethanol-blending programme, there is not enough alcohol to cater to chemical and portableliquor industries in the country. The sugar industry has been giving inflated production and deflated consumption data of ethanol to show surplus for blending. Alternative sources like sweet sorghum can yield higher ethanol while consuming half the amount of water and fertilisers, compared to sugarcane.

Mumbai , Aug. 10

The chemical industry is deeply apprehensive about the Union Government's forthcoming decision to implement blending of five per cent ethanol with petrol in ten states and four union territories. It expects a sharp rise in ethanol prices. For a large number of industrial processes ethanol is an indispensable chemical agent.

Major feedstocks of chemical industry are ethanol based. Solvents like acetic acid are based on ethanol. These solvents are used in all major industries such as textile, food processing, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.

According to a source in the Indian Chemical Manufacturers' Association (ICMA), shortage of ethanol or increase in prices could have a direct impact on the price of chemicals.

Even without the ethanol-blending programme, there is not enough alcohol to cater to chemical and portableliquor industries in the country. During the last two years, 70-crore litres of ethanol was imported in the country from Brazil to meet the shortfall, a source said.

The ICMA source said mandatory ethanol-blending programme should to be kept in abeyance till sufficient ethanol production is achieved. The source alleges that the sugar industry has been giving inflated production and deflated consumption data of ethanol to show surplus for blending.

Since molasses-based ethanol is limited and just enough to meet the demand from liquor and chemical industries, alternative source of ethanol must be encouraged to increase total production in the country, a source said, pointing out that alternative sources like sweet sorghum can yield higher ethanol while consuming half the amount of water and fertilisers, compared to sugarcane. Such crops are best suited for Indian conditions where land and water are limited.

However, agricultural experts are doubtful about viability of sweet sorghum as an alternative crop to sugarcane for ethanol production.

Technological limitations

Dr Yogendra Nerkar, sugar expert and adviser to the Vasantdada Sugar Institute in Pune, told Business Line that ethanol extraction from sweet sorghum is still not commercially feasible. Many sugar factories have attempted ethanol extraction but their ventures have not progressed beyond the experimental stage. There are inherent technological limitations in extracting ethanol from sweet sorghum. The crushing process is not very efficient and therefore the recovery of ethanol is also low, Dr Nerkar said.

Mr Jagadeesh Sunkad, an agriculture expert from Karnataka said, "Planting of sweet sorghum crop for ethanol would require vast tracks of land.

For a regular sugar plant with a crushing capacity of 2,500 tonnes per day, the command area is 25,000 acres. For sweet sorghum crop, where the recovery rate of sugar is much lower, the plantation area would have to be even higher."

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