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Life cycle analysis of existing and suggested infrastructure to meet ethanol blending mandate in India

Student Name: Ms Sujata
Guide: Prof. Atul Kumar
Year of completion: 2020


India meets 80% of its crude oil demands through imports. India has 17.84% of the global human population; however, it has only 2.4% of global surface area and about 6% of the world’s primary energy. Conventional energy reserves are dwindling, and there has been intensive research to find alternatives to fossil fuels. Considering the looming energy challenges, Indian policymakers have taken multiple strategic steps to incorporate renewable energy into India's energy systems. Biofuels have emerged as a renewable, reliable, and green source of energy. Biofuel's demand for blending in transport fuel has increased globally. Biofuels could help in enhancing the energy security of a nation and minimizing dependence on imported crude oil. Towards this endeavour, the Government of India has initiated the Bioethanol Blending Programme with a 5% blending target in the year 2003 and scale up to 20% by 2017.

Molasses-based bioethanol can be an alternative to fossil fuels and is of great strategic importance to India for its energy security. The sustainability of a bioethanol project depends on a detailed assessment of biomass availability, infrastructure for processing the raw materials, and its environmental implications. Speculating the looming energy challenges in 2008, Indian policymakers had laid a roadmap to incorporate 20% of bioethanol into the energy systems by 2017.

So, the foremost aim of the thesis was to assess India preparedness to meet 20% bioethanol blending fuel by 2017. This study has investigated three different streams, i.e. (a) ethanol market dynamics; (b) infrastructural facilities and (c) biomass available for bio-ethanol production, along the molasses-to-ethanol supply chain to perform a reality check on the government vision to blend 20% of gasoline with ethanol by the year 2017. It was identified that, under given market conditions, India could achieve only 2.4% blending, although the target was set to meet 20% ethanol blending by 2017. The outcome suggests that the country needs to create additional infrastructure across India. Additionally, challenges and weak linkages across the value chain were identified, and actions to fast-track programme execution were made.

In India, the bioethanol blending programme has been solely dependent on the molasses as raw materials, a by-product of sugarcane processing. At present, the ethanol production from molasses is about 2.2 billion liters from the 162 distilleries that are in operation in the country. This study had identified the new site for the available (unprocessed) molasses where these distillation facilities could be strategically located to optimize the distance traveled along the bioethanol supply chain using the GIS tool.

The state-wise analysis identified that the country needs to install 43 new distillation units to process its unprocessed molasses from the 98 sugar mills for the base year. Similarly, for the year 2030-31, 88 new distillation facilities would be required, in various capacities ranging from 30 to 60 KLPD (Kilo liters per day). The newly identified locations are the ones with minimum carbon footprint, and it also provides the opportunity to small scale industries to process their molasses more economically at the nearest locations.

Furthermore, the thesis also studied the application of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to identify the environmental impacts of these newly identified locations and compared them with the other two possible scenarios. The results showed that, for 1 ton of bioethanol production, the overall GHG emissions of Scenario 1 (ethanol production at newly identified location) was 913 kg CO2-eq, which is 2% higher (820 kg CO2-eq) from scenario 2 (ethanol production at sugar mill with integrated distillation) and 26% lower (1230 kg CO2-eq) compared to scenario 3 (ethanol production at refinery unit). The quantification of GHG (Greenhouse gas) emission, energy consumption, and impact on the health during the process was also evaluated, which not only quantifies the impact but also generates data to underpins the bioethanol policy formulation in the country.

Finally, the thesis argues that the Government of India (incapacity of the implementation agency), should consider the identified locations as sites to erect new distillation facilities for molasses to ethanol processing facilities. These strategic locations identified in the study will not only reduce the impact among all the categories but also provide the opportunity to the small-scale sugar industry to process their molasses more economically and environmentally friendly.