[In-depth] Flex-Fuel Vehicles (FFV) – Benefits, Limitations and Government Initiatives

Flex-fuel-vehicles-FFV-upsc

As the world seeks to settle for a cleaner future, the governments and policymakers are seen inclining towards cleaner technologies. This has led to increased research in the field of EVs and other alternative environment-friendly vehicles. Flex-Fuel Vehicles are one such alternative that has gained considerable attention in recent times. It would be interesting to know why they have gained so much attention and how beneficial they can be to the humans and environment as well.

What is Flex-Fuel Vehicle (FFV)?

  • Flex-fuel vehicles are those vehicles that have internal combustion engines designed to run on more than one type of fuel.
  • They are capable of running on 100 per cent petrol or 100 per cent bio-ethanol or a combination of both.
  • The technology was first developed in the early 1990s and was used in the mass-produced 1994 Ford Taurus.
  • By 2017, there were approximately 21 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road.

How are FFVs different from existing vehicles?

  • Currently, the vehicles running on roads in India have been tuned for 10 per cent ethanol (E10) blending. Therefore, all existing vehicles on Indian roads will not be able to run on higher ethanol content beyond 10 per cent.
  • However, FFVs can run either on petrol or ethanol and thus it will be the first of its kind 100 per cent dual-fuel vehicle to be running on Indian roads.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

Benefits

  • Environment-friendly
    • Vehicles running on petrol and diesel harm the environment. However, ethanol is cleaner as compared to gasoline and thus emit fewer toxic fumes into the environment.
    • Additionally, flex fuels (an alternative fuel made of a combination of gasoline and methanol or ethanol) emit fewer greenhouse gases in the environment thus may help in reaching climate goals.
  • Burning facility
    • The combustion chamber in flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) is capable of burning any proportion of fuel mixture facilitating the burning of fuel for use.
    • These cars are equipped with electronic sensors that gauge the blend, and their microprocessors adjust the fuel injection and timing.
  • Advanced technology
    • Modern flex vehicles are built using advanced technology such as electronic sensors. These technological advances help in allowing the cars to make necessary adjustments (detecting the fuel blend etc.) in the way they are operating.
  • Sustainably produced
    • The fundamental fuel used in flex-fuel vehicles is ethanol and ethanol is produced using cane sugar and corn. Thus, the production process of the required fuel is sustainable in long run causing lesser harm to the environment.
  • Improved performance
    • Using alternative fuel such as ethanol leads to improved performance of the vehicles. Some vehicles even generate increased torque and horsepower.
  • Others
    • These include lower outflow of money from the economy for petroleum-based fuel, tax incentives to consumers and others.

Limitations

  • Based on crop use
    • The primary concern regarding flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) is that the fuel (ethanol) they use is produced using corn and sugar. Thus, crops designed or produced for being used in such vehicles can’t be allocated to other sources. This may consequently lead to a rise in the prices of animal feed.
    • Furthermore, corn prices are often dependent on corn harvest and corn is susceptible to diseases and weather conditions such as flooding and drought. This may lead to shortage and price rise during the period of poor harvest.
  • Possible engine damage
    • Ethanol absorbs dirt easily and thus it has the potential to corrode and damage vehicle engines.
    • This may adversely affect the durability of such vehicles.
  • Lower gas mileage
    • Some experts often raise concerns about the lower gas mileage of flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs). Although ethanol raises a vehicle’s octane level, it contains less energy.
  • Scarcity of fuel stations
    • As ethanol is less economical than petrol and not efficient as gasoline, it is less likely to be carried out by gas stations.
    • Additionally, there are fewer such gas stations nationwide that supply ethanol.
  • High expense
    • Given the lower efficiency of ethanol, the suppliers of ethanol and gas stations may be fewer. Such reasons combined with the high distance between gas stations may add to the expense after flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs)

India-specific benefits

  • FFVs may help India in drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and reaching climate goals.
  • They may also help in reducing the import of petroleum products and preventing the outflow of money from the country.
  • Furthermore, they may help the farmers create additional revenue since a wide uptake of ethanol or methanol would involve the manufacturing of fuel from bio-wastes.
  • New technology implementation means there will be opportunities for new job creation. The OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and their component suppliers and aftermarket service providing segments will witness new job creation.
  • Apart from that, the adoption of FFVs may help address other issues like agricultural waste management or even stubble burning.

India-specific limitations

  • India is an agro-based country and experts claim that a large number of farmers may benefit from the introduction of FFVs since they are based on ethanol. However, a majority of farmers in India are dependent on the cultivation of cereal crops. Thus, it is quite doubtful whether they will opt for sugarcane farming, which is the main ingredient for ethanol production.
  • Implementation of new technology requires a huge sum of investment from industry and other stakeholders. At a time when a huge amount of money has been spent on migration from BS-IV to BS-VI norms in record time, it will be hard for the auto industry stakeholders to invest another huge sum given the pandemic effects.
  • Lack of awareness among consumers may also lead to a delay in consumer acceptance of such vehicles. Doubts regarding the newer technology will add to this concern.
  • India is setting varied targets to promote FFVs. However, given the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Indian economy, it would be difficult for India to achieve such targets by the set deadline or within desired time frame.

Government initiatives

  • India is set to become the latest major entrant to the list of countries that promote the use of flex-fuel vehicles.
  • The Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways had recently advised the automakers to start manufacturing vehicles that can run on more than one type of fuel.
  • To give a boost to FFVs in India, the Government of India has included automobile & auto components and auto components of flex-fuel engines into the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme.
  • Furthermore, having realised the importance of a strong foundation for the Ethanol blending programme (EBP), the NITI Aayog has formulated the road map for Ethanol blending for the period, 2020-2025.
  • To promote the use of ethanol-blended fuel, the Finance Minister in the Union Budget announced that unblended fuel shall attract an additional differential excise duty of ₹2/ litre from October 2022.
  • The Government of India has advanced the target of achieving 20 per cent ethanol blending in petrol (called E20 fuel) from 2030 to 2025 under EBP (ethanol blending policy).

Way Forward

Flex-fuel Vehicles (FFV) have a major role to play in the coming time. Although concerns remain regarding FFVs, there needs to be an understanding that every new technology has advantages and disadvantages. Weighing all the options and minimizing the shortcomings and limitations may help. Adoption of a multi-modal and multi-stakeholder approach will give a boost to such vehicles in India.

Practise Question

Q. What is the scope of Flex-Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) in India? Will they prove to be a better alternative to petroleum-based fuels? Comment.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x