India opened its first plant to produce ethanol from rice straw or stubble on Wednesday as part of measures to reduce its dependence on oil imports and meet its net zero carbon target.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the project will help reduce pollution in New Delhi, which has been covered in smog from stubble burning in recent winters, as well as in Haryana and Punjab.
India, one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, has set a target for net zero carbon emissions by 2070 and has accelerated steps to switch to cleaner energy to reduce projected emissions by one billion tons by 2030.
Prime Minister Modi said India, the world’s third largest oil importer, cannot remain isolated from disruptions in global markets, adding that the Panipat project would increase farmers’ incomes.
A combination of oil prices well above $100 a barrel and a strong US dollar have added pressure on countries that rely on crude oil imports for their economies.
Indian state oil companies have announced plans for 12 plants in different states to produce ethanol using agricultural waste.
Commercial production of the new 9 billion Indian rupee ($114 million) Indian Oil Corp plant is set to begin in three months, Oil Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said.
He said India is the third country to produce ethanol from agricultural waste, after Brazil and the United States.
The plant will produce 100 kiloliters of ethanol per day, which corresponds to approximately 100 tons. India has so far used ethanol produced from sugar for blending with gasoline. The ethanol produced by the project will help reduce annual CO2 emissions by about 300,000 tons, which is equivalent to nearly 63,000 cars a year off India’s roads, said Sukla Mistry, head of refineries at Indian Oil.
India depends on foreign oil suppliers for about 85% of its demand, but in the past eight years it has increased the percentage of ethanol in gasoline from 1.4% to 10.16%.
The government aims to increase this mix to 20% by 2025/26.
The demand for petrol in India is rising rapidly as people choose to travel in their own cars to avoid a heat wave.
“We saved 415 billion rupees in foreign exchange by blending ethanol with gasoline and reduced emissions of about 2.7 million tons of carbon dioxide,” Puri said. Aside from financial savings, the new plant will also help dispose of rice waste, which is a major source of air pollution when farmers burn stubble. The new factory will use 200,000 tons of rice straw.