Look beyond sugarcane for ethanol

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | New Delhi, Aug 19 | Updated: Aug 20 2007, 04:52am hrs
India should consider producing ethanol from sources other than sugarcane juice or molasses for meeting the needs of 10% doping of auto-fuels. Crops like maize and sweet sorghum should be used for production of ethanol.

Researches should be undertaken for cost-effective production of ethanol from lignocellulose - composed of cellulose, hemi cellulose and lignin, said a study conducted by a multinational consultancy and market research firm, Frost & Sullivan. Referring to the cyclical nature of sugarcane production in the country, the study noted that three years back, when the cane production declined, then the industry was able to produce only around 15 million tonne sugar.

Not only had the country to import 5 million tonne sugar but also 447 million litre ethanol from Brazil. However, 2006-07 turned out to be a bumper year for cane production, resulting in 27 million tonne sugar output and about 10.8 million tonne of molasses.

This 10.8 million tonne molasses can produce about 2,700 million tonne ethanol, sufficient to meet the needs of 5% doping of auto-fuel. In the context, the study suggested that ethanol production directly from sugarcane juice rather than from ethanol would be cost-effective and profitable proposition for the industry.

The study said that in the futuristic scenario of mandatory 10% doping of auto-fuel, ethanol demand cannot be met solely from production from sources like sugarcane juice or molasses.

At present, the ethanol production capacity in the country is about 2.5 billion litre against a need for 0.6 billion litre for 5% mandatory blending of auto-fuels. But all the ethanol produced cannot be used for auto-fuel blending, as about 90% of the ethanol produced are used by breweries, distilleries and other industries and hence, other alternative sources for cost-effective ethanol production needs to be explored, the study said.