India’s Flex Fuel Programme needs to have consumers at the centre of the transition

The core challenge discussed by industry leaders was the adoption of blends higher than E20, such as E85. This is the highest percentage of the blend, which comprises 85 percent of ethanol fuel blend and 15 percent gasoline or other hydrocarbons by volume. 

By Amit Vijay M calendar 26 Jun 2023 Views icon4499 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
India’s Flex Fuel Programme needs to have consumers at the centre of the transition

Make consumers at the centre of the flex fuels transition in India. This is the moot point that was expressed by the participants of the ARAI’s one day seminar on flex fuels. This gains importance as biofuels and ethanol are set to play a significant role in the country’s journey towards decarbonisation.

Representatives from OEMs, Oil marketing companies, component makers, government agencies, and international flex fuel experts gathered at the ARAI's Kothrud campus in Pune to understand the gaps in India's biofuel journey. 

Delegates shared their views on the seminar topic of "Flex Fuels vehicles an indigenous eco-friendly solution to Indian Auto industry" while expressing their consensus that the auto industry is working in the right direction for blending ethanol up to 20 percent or the e20 blend by 2025.

The broad discussions amongst the participants at the seminar were on discovering ways to speed up means of reducing the country’s dependence on conventional gasoline and save Rs 30,000 crore of foreign exchange from petrol and diesel imports.  

The core challenge discussed by industry leaders was the adoption of blends higher than E20, such as E85. This is the highest percentage of the blend, which comprises 85 percent of ethanol fuel blend and 15 percent gasoline or other hydrocarbons by volume. 

Talking about integrating the consumer into the biofuel program, participants at the program jointly agreed that India needs to offer a minimum 35 percent gap between gasoline prices and flex-fuel (E85 blend), which currently stands at around 37 percent In Brazil. Industry members pointed out that consumers moved to CNG from gasoline because there was a significant value. 

Dr. Ravindra Utgikar, Vice President of Praj Industries, told Autocar Professional that the role of biofuels is critical as India is looking to reduce its dependence on foreign exchange and flex fuels can provide a long-term solution for India's oil import bill " Biofuels can also work with EV's by providing a strong coexistence by way of strong flex fuel hybrid cars, prototypes of which  have been launched".

Praj has been at the forefront of setting up a 2G Bio Ethanol refinery (extracting ethanol from non-sugar-based sources) with Indian Oil Corporation at Panipat with the capability of processing two lakh tonnes of rice straw annually to generate around three crore litres of ethanol using their patented technology.

While Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari is stated to bring out a policy where alternative fuels and flex fuels will be incentivised, ARAI's Senior Deputy Director and Head of Department- EDL and ERL, Dr. S.S Thipse stated that the industry needs to look into the increasing cost of flex-fuel vehicles, over ICE vehicles and as ethanol delivers a lower mileage to the consumer.

Thipse in his presentation on "the legislative norms for Flex fuel vehicles and development efforts for ethanol technologies" said, "We need to sort out this double whammy facing the flex fuel transition. How we as the automotive industry, oil marketing companies, component makers, and OEMs work together to resolve this core issue is the core reason why we organised this seminar" he told Autocar Professional.

Challenges ahead

It is estimated that the additional cost impact of the flex fuel transition will be up to Rs 25,000 for cars and Rs 12,000 for two-wheelers according to industry experts who were present at the seminar.  

India is currently blending 11.6 percent ethanol with gasoline, keeping in mind the target of reaching 20 percent blending by 2025 and the nation can easily scale the target e20 by 2025-26, informed Tarun Aggarwal, Vice President of Maruti Suzuki India in his paper, OEM's perspective for flex-fuel vehicles.

"While trade and industry transitioning to electric vehicles, they alone may not be the only solution as India's move towards integrating flex fuel and biofuel-based journeys will help the country save close to 30,000 crores if we follow the biofuel policy,” Agarwal said.

In terms of key challenges, he further explained that all stakeholders have to push toward customer adoption of the fuel by ensuring that uniform fuel is made available across all fuel pumps.  

"As we understand oil marketing companies are developing adequate storage facilities for flex fuel stations, OEMs too are developing flex-fuel engines keeping in mind the BS VI limits, RDE norms, IUPRM norms, and OBD norms" he explained.

Maruti Suzuki’s Vice President said, “The e85 blend is best suited for the auto industry”. He however, stated that clarity in policy is required for the blend to be validated by a third party, as ethanol can come from various sources including sugarcane, grains, and other forms with varying calorific values.

OEMs will be more comfortable selling such vehicles, giving full confidence to the customer regarding no change in the performance of the vehicle or operating fuel efficiency, he emphasised. 

“If the consumer faces challenges with either loss in mileage or issues regarding starting of the vehicle due to varying calorific counts or extreme temperature changes, "the word of mouth will end up going against flex fuels and this is something we as an industry have to be extremely careful about," Aggarwal said.

ARAI Director, Reji Mathai echoing similar concerns said, “The oil marketing companies, the producers have their fears. But we have to move forward making amendments and carrying ahead with the challenges knowing the solutions have to be acceptable to ensure consumers don’t say something substandard is offered."

Besides uniformity of fuel and cost additions, the industry is also looking forward to the government including the benefits of Ethanol in CAFE norms. Aggarwal told Autocar Professional that one of Maruti's key requests is for the correct accounting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission benefits of Ethanol as per the CAFE norms. The CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) norms state that the average Co2 emission must be less than 130 grams per kilometre till 2022, and below 113 grams per kilometre after.

India's leading passenger car maker showcased the Wagon R Flex Fuel model at the Auto Expo 2023. "We also believe that WagonR being a mass-segment model would help in much faster adoption of this technology in the masses with passenger cars," he opined.

Varying degrees of engineering interventions are required in the country's flex-fuel journey including the quality of fuel, electrical, and exhaust systems most importantly in the engine with components like the piston, cylinder block, and fuel rail systems having to undergo multiple changes.

Challenges faced by component makers for flex fuel transition 

Other component makers including Tier 1 player Bosch said that the analysis of lubricants after engine tests shows that unburnt ethanol fuel can contaminate the lubricant, thus increasing the chances of wear and tear to the engine.

K U Ravindran Vice President of Engineering at BOSCH in his paper ‘Challenges for the development of flex-fuel systems on two and four wheelers considering Indian scenario and upcoming regulations,’ said "Flex fuel vehicles are new to India and they are in the early discovery phase. To understand the India-specific challenges which BOSCH has already mitigated in the development of the flex fuel vehicle two-wheeler" Ravindra explained that India will have to work on lower ethanol blends, to address the issue of cold start regarding flex fuel vehicles. Cold start in lay language means that

Regarding the cold start issue with FFV vehicles, Ravindran said India will have to work on lower ethanol blends. He spoke of a dual mode for the e85 transition.” We need to look for winter fuel having a 0-degree flash point and summer fuel with a 5-degree flash point. There is also the need for a fuel heating system to be installed in the vehicle so as the ethanol warms up, the engine will also reduce start emissions, he said. Cold start in lay language means that vehicles take time to start in cold temperatures, so two kinds of fuels are needed, one for cold temperatures and one for warm temperatures.

Ravindran said the need of the hour for oil marketing companies is the "standard for anhydrous ethanol (IS-15464) should be revised to meet the requirements of EN-15376 standard to ensure appropriate e20 quality when blending." The EN-15376 standard is the standard for ethanol as a blending component for petrol.

Both domestic two and four-wheeler OEMs including TVS Motor, Hero MotoCorp, Bajaj Auto, Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India (HMSI), India Yamaha, Suzuki Motorcycle, Toyota Kirloskar Motor, and Maruti Suzuki India displayed their working prototypes at the recently concluded Auto Expo 2023.

Keeping consumer at the top of the agenda

Dr Alok Kumar, Senior General Manager of Hero MotoCorp in his presentation 'OEM perspective for flex fuel two-wheeler development considering BS VI regulations' Kumar said sharing a simple common day example that as consumers, we don't bother whether power from renewable or non-renewable is powering our electric meters.

“In the same way the consumer should have the flexibility of seamless switching between normal gasoline or e85 blend gasoline,” he said.

"Fuel can vary between E20 to E100 and its chemical properties keep on changing. As the technologist, it is our responsibility to ensure the vehicle performs with extreme ends of E20 and E85 blend" Kumar informed Autocar Professional.

He said OEMs need to work at the software level so the vehicle's electronic control unit (ECU) identifies the correct fuel blend and the basis on which the air-fuel ratio (lambda) is maintained.

"The job of the ECU is to identify and maintain it. In Brazil, they are using an ethanol sensor. At Hero we have done away with the sensor and the patented software our team has developed, regulates change in the fuel and the response of the engine to process it accordingly " he explained.

Some of the other speakers who presented their case studies in the seminar included PS Ravi, Executive Director of Bharat Petroleum, Shekar Gaikwad, former Sugar Commissioner of Maharashtra, Kazuya Tsurumi Junio Corporate Officer and head of Mobility and Energy Business Division of Japanese testing firm Horiba, and Roger Guilherme, Manager Bio Fuels, and Products R&D, Volkswagen SAM (South America).


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