The Transport Ministry is keen on tapping agricultural and agro-waste products as sources of renewable fuels that are cost effective and environment-friendly, said Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways, and Shipping.
The government will soon roll out a policy for encouraging the use of bamboo and other plant fibres as raw materials for ethanol. Bamboo can be cultivated in wastelands. Sugar mills can use bagasse, the fibre from sugarcane, and even straw can be a source of ethanol.
Use of bio-fuels will help augment farmers’ income by diversification of agriculture to provide energy and fuel, he said in an interaction with journalists from The Hindu group.
Second-generation ethanol, which is ethanol derived from breaking down fibrous materials, including agro waste, will be an emerging opportunity.
He pointed out that the Petroleum Ministry has signed 15 contracts, including one with Praj Industries, which will make ethanol from rice straw.
Elaborating on his Ministry’s initiatives in bringing in bio-fuels, including ethanol and bio-diesel into commercial use in public transport and commercial vehicles, he said bio-fuels can be a “game changer”.
They are a low cost, environment-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, benefit farmers by creating new market opportunity. This will mean farmers will no longer have to burn agro waste in the fields, he said.
In his own hometown in Nagpur, public transport buses run on bio-fuels and electric buses are being tried out. All these, he said, will bring down the cost of public transport.
For instance, while the operational cost of Mumbai’s public transport buses can go as high as ₹110 a km on fossil fuels, ethanol can bring this down to ₹70, and electric vehicles further down to ₹65, he said.
The Centre is working on a policy to finance over two lakh buses that will run on renewable energy sources. Modern bus ports, as a part of public transport infrastructure, will also be developed.
The government is also pushing for blending ethanol with automobile fuel. But he acknowledged there are issues in the implementation due to shortage of domestic ethanol and pricing.