What is the E20 fuel offered by the government? How is this different from the gasoline currently in use?


The Indian government recently set a target of bringing the average blend of ethanol in gasoline in the country to 20% by 2025. It plans to roll out E20 gasoline blended with ethanol from April 2023. E20 fuel is composed of 80% gasoline mixed with 20% ethanol.

About half of the gasoline currently sold in India contains 10 percent ethanol (E10). the rest sold is unmixed (E0). The first phase of the program targets the availability of E10 nationwide by April 2022.

The political push has several advantages. It is expected to reduce air pollution, being less polluting than gasoline. The government expects oil import savings to the tune of Rs. 30,000 crore per year.

It also promises to create a whole new industry. To boost the program, the government will funnel 6 million tonnes of sugar into ethanol production each year by 2025.

Ethanol offers similar efficiency at a lower cost compared to gasoline. However, in order to run a vehicle on E20, certain updates and modifications are required for the engines. The rollout of the E20 will reflect India’s shift from leaded to unleaded petrol.

Let’s understand what ethanol fuel is and how blended E20 gasoline will be different from what most vehicles fill up at gas stations today.

What is fuel ethanol?

Fuel ethanol is ethyl alcohol, the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.

It is most often used as a motor fuel, primarily as a biofuel addition to gasoline. Biomass is commonly used to make ethanol, such as corn or sugar cane. The abundance of sugarcane production in India is critical to the push towards ethanol-based fuel.

What is the difference between ethanol and gasoline?

Gasoline has more energy than ethanol; a full tank of ethanol contains about 30 percent less energy than the same amount of gasoline.

According to an article by Niti Aayog published in June 2021, using E20 fuel in 4-wheel vehicles designed for E0 gasoline and then calibrated for E10 will result in an estimated loss of fuel efficiency of 6-7%. For E0 two-wheelers upgraded to E10, using E20 will result in 3-4% decrease in efficiency.

For new 4-wheel vehicles designed for E10 gasoline and upgraded for E20, there will be a negligible loss of 1-2% in efficiency.

New flexible motors

As the next step in the program, India has chosen to allow ethanol-based “flexible engines”, which use local agricultural products instead of fossil fuels to power vehicles. Flex engines are those that can run at any ethanol blend ratio from E20 to E100.

These types of engines and cars are not new. The Fiat 147, launched in 1978 in Brazil, was the first production car to run solely on ethanol.


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