Recently, the Government has advised the Automobile Manufacturers in India, to start manufacturing Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFV) and Flex Fuel Strong Hybrid Electric Vehicles (FFV-SHEV) complying with BS-6 Norms in a time bound manner.
What is Flex-Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) :
- The flex-fuel engine-based vehicles use a blend of the gasoline and ethanol. FFVs will allow vehicles to use all the blends and also run on unblended fuel.
- Flex fuel vehicles (FFV) are capable of running on 100 per cent petrol or 100 per cent bio-ethanol or a combination of both.
- Ethanol is a by-product of sugarcane but can also be made from grains. In short, ethanol is a renewable fuel made from various plant materials collectively known as biomass.
- Given the size of the country’s sugarcane and grain production, India can meet most of its ethanol requirements indigenously.
- In a good flex-fuel vehicle, up to 83 per cent ethanol can be mixed with petrol, which is a global standard.
- Bio-ethanol contains less energy per litre than petrol but the calorific value (energy contained in the fuel) of bio-ethanol will become on par with petrol with use of advanced technology.
- The government has also advised carmakers to start making Flex Fuel Strong Hybrid Electric Vehicles (FFSHEV). Such a vehicle, though yet to be made widely available in world markets, essentially houses an electric motor which powers the vehicle alongside the traditional petrol engine.
Flex Fuel Strong Hybrid Electric Vehicles (FFV-SHEV):
- When FFV is integrated along with strong hybrid electric technology, it is referred as FFV-SHEVs.
- Strong hybrid is another term for full hybrid vehicles, which have the capability to run solely on either electric or petrol modes.
- In contrast, mild hybrids cannot run purely on one of these modes and use the secondary mode merely as a supplement to the main mode of propulsion.
In order to accelerate the introduction of FFVs, the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme has included automobile and auto components of flex fuel engines.
Are they different from existing vehicles?
- Since an FFV is capable of running on either petrol or ethanol, it will be the first of its kind 100 per cent dual fuel vehicle to be running on Indian roads.
- To be sure, a litre of petrol sold in India has an average of 8 percent ethanol content even though oil marketing companies have clearance to do even 10 percent (E10) blending.
- All vehicles manufactured in India are tuned for E10. All existing vehicles on Indian roads will not be able to run on higher ethanol content beyond 10 percent.
Why is Government of India pushing for FFVs?
- Last year (FY21), India’s oil import bill stood at $62.7 billion which was matched in just the first seven months (April-October) of this year. To make matters worse, the rupee is at its weakest level in last three financial years. The government is desperate to bring down the oil import bill by creating fuel substitutes like ethanol, hydrogen and electricity.
- Even a push till the E20 level can result in savings of $4 billion per annum, as per estimates. This is possible only if flex-fuel vehicles are made available in the market. Also, FFVs will also help the government meet its commitments when it comes to reducing emission.
Advantages of Flex-Fuel Vehicles:
- Environmental impact: Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline and therefore is responsible for fewer toxic fumes, which is highly advantageous from an anti-pollution point of view. The fact that ethanol does not contribute significantly to greenhouse gasses, makes it a popular alternative among the environmentally conscious.
- Alternative fuel ethanol is Rs 60-62 per litre while petrol costs more than Rs 100 per litre in many parts of the country, so by using ethanol, Indians will save Rs 30-35 per litre. Since India has surplus produce of corn, sugar and wheat, the mandatory blending of ethanol programme will help farmers in realising higher incomes.
- Alternative to oil: Many flex fuel vehicles make use of ethanol, which originates from corn and sugar cane, a viable alternative to purchasing foreign oil.
- For India, FFVs will present a different advantage as they will allow vehicles to use different blends of ethanol mixed petrol available in different parts of the country.
- For the overall Indian economy, higher usage of ethanol as an automobile fuel will help save import costs as the country meets more than 80 per cent of its crude oil requirements through imports.
- Tax benefit.: Another significant advantage of driving a flex fuel vehicle is the flex fuel tax credit which replaced the clean-fuel burning deduction. This tax credit substantially reduces and may even eliminate a taxpayer’s tax obligation
Disadvantages of Flex-Fuel Vehicles:
- Sole use: The use of ethanol can be considered a disadvantage as well because any crops that are made available for fuel production cannot be used for any other use. This could lead to higher prices for products like animal feed that could otherwise be derived from them. Corn, in particular, is a labour-intensive crop to cultivate and is prone to drought, bad weather conditions and disease
- Engine damage: Ethanol can also unfortunately cause corrosion and damage to the engine, mainly because it absorbs dirt easily
- Expense: Ethanol is also not as economical as gasoline; in that it does not provide the same level of fuel efficiency. Suppliers of ethanol may not be as numerous as those who supply gasoline, so flex fuel stations may be fewer and farther between than is presently the case with gasoline stations. In fact, there are currently only a few stations nationwide that supply ethanol.
Significance of the Move:
- Easing Pressure on Import Bill: The policy is expected to reduce the demand for petroleum products.
- India presently imports more than 80% of its petroleum requirement, and this also represents one of the biggest outflows of money from the country.
- Benefiting Farmers: The wide uptake of ethanol or methanol as a fuel is intended to create an additional revenue stream for farmers.
- This will provide direct benefits to farmers and help in doubling the farmer’s income.
- Boost to Atma Nirbhar Bharat: It is in line with Prime Minister’s vision of Atma Nirbhar Bharat and government’s policy on promoting ethanol as a transport fuel.
- Reducing Greenhouse Gas & Tackling Climate Change: This move will drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles on a well-to-wheel basis.
- Thereby, helping India to comply with its commitment made at Conference of parties (COP26) to reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes by 2030.
- Although the advantages and disadvantages of flex fuel vehicles will be debated for some time to come, one of the most popular fuels for these vehicles, ethanol, is finding favour with many in power positions. More ethanol refining plants are requesting permission to develop additional facilities. Ethanol has moved out of the research phase and may very well be the first alternative fuel to be implemented nationally, which can only count in favour for the continuing popularity of flex fuel vehicles.
Related Government Initiatives:
- National Policy on Biofuels–2018
- E100 Project.
- Pradhan Mantri JI-VAN Yojana, 2019
- GOBAR (Galvanising Organic Bio-Agro Resources) DHAN Scheme, 2018
- Repurpose Used Cooking Oil (RUCO)
BS-VI Fuel Norms:
- The Bharat Stage (BS) are emission standards instituted by the Government of India to regulate the output of air pollutants from motor vehicles.
- India directly shifted from BS-IV to BS-VI norms. The switch to BS-VI vehicles was to happen in 2022 but looking at the poor air condition, the move was advanced by four years.
- In BS-VI fuel, the volume of Particulate Matter 2.5 ranges from 20 to 40 micrograms per cubic metre whereas in BS-IV fuel it is up to 120 micrograms per cubic metre.
- BS-VI fuel will bring down sulphur content by 5 times from the current BS-IV levels. It has 10 ppm of sulphur as against 50 ppm in BS-IV.
- Sulphur in the fuel contributes to fine particulate matter emissions. High sulphur content in the fuel also leads to corrosion and wear of the automobile engine.
- With BS-VI fuel, for every one kilometre, a car will emit 80% less particulate matter and nearly 70% less nitrogen oxide.
- Air pollutants in BS-VI fuel are much less as compared to BS-IV fuel.
- BS-VI norms also seek to reduce the level of certain harmful hydrocarbons in the emissions that are produced due to incomplete combustion of fuel.