The Centre’s plans to blend 22.5% ethanol with petrol has caused alarm among petroleum dealers in the city, who fear numerous problems in the mix caused because of Kolkata’s high humidity. Already, the E10 Gasohol mix that is used (10% ethanol mixed with petrol or gasoline) causes multiple problems because of Kolkata’s humidity, thanks to ethanol’s hygroscopic (water absorbing) property, and experts and dealers fear the problems will worsen because of the higher percentage of ethanol mix that is being planned, unless remedial measures are adopted by oil marketing companies.
10 per cent ethanol is mixed with Petrol or Galsoline to produce to E10 Gasohol. This causes multiple problems in a humid city like Kolkata thanks to Ethanol’s hygroscopic property (absorbing water). Now, the union government is aiming at blending 22.5 per cent ethanol with petrol. This blending, experts said, would cause greater problems in humid areas like Kolkata, if remedial measures are not adopted by oil marketing companies (OMCs).
Already, as reported by TOI on June 21, petroleum dealers found ‘phase separation’ in their tanks, almost in three distinct layers. “I checked only two days back, immediately after the fuel came to my gas station, and found specific gravity or density varying by 14 points. While the declared density of the fuel is 751.1cc, I found fuel density of 662.4cc at the middle layer of the tank, 766.2cc at the lower layer and 757cc at the upper layer. When I questioned the oil marketing company (OMC) about the aberration, the company’s representative asked me to make an average. The average comes to 765cc. So, there is a difference of 14cc,” complained a south Kolkata petroleum dealer.
The petroleum dealer said the OMC cannot challenge him as the fuel is kept in a sealed fuel box given to him by the OMC. “If they accuse me of adulteration, I will ask them to compare the fuel of my tank with that of the ‘company box’. They would not find any difference. So, clearly, something is wrong at their end,” the dealer said.
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“This happens because of absorption of water by the ethanol,” said auto emission consultant Somendra Mohan Ghosh. “Phase separation describes what happens to Gasohol (ethanol-blended petrol or gasoline) when water is present. When gasoline containing even small amounts of ethanol comes in contact with water, either liquid or in the form of humidity, the ethanol will pick up and absorb some or all of that water. When it reaches a saturation point, the ethanol and water will ‘phase separate’, actually coming out of solution and forming two or three distinct layers in the tank, giving three distinct density levels,” he explained.
Automobile expert and former NIT director Prabir Kumar Bose said: “OMCs need to mix certain additives with the gasoline so as to minimize the hygroscopic property of ethanol. Besides, the OMCs must maintain a dehydrated ambience so as not to allow ethanol to get exposed to water or humidity.”
The variation of density is correlated with fuel consumption. While ethanol reduces carbon monoxide emission by 30%, phase separation causes more pollution and engine trouble. The problem will increase manifold if the blend goes up above 20%, said experts. Moreover, most car engines are not programmed to burn ethanol-blended fuel. Abroad, cars have branding on the basis of its engine’s choice of fuel. Vehicles with flexi-fuel choice can burn ethanol-blended gasoline efficiently. However, in cities like Kolkata, the E10 Gasohol is being dispensed from unleaded petrol dispensers, Ghosh said.
However, proper bio ethanol plant is coming up in Assam. The plant will start making ethanol from bamboo in North-East. 40,000 litres of second generation ethanol could be produced there. He said boost to ethanol production could cut India’s huge crude oil imports bill, which is pegged at Rs 7 lakh crore per annum. This Ethanol blended fuel of course will have additives to neutralize its hygroscopic property. Pat Lafontaine Jersey