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Union minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari on Thursday said that India is working on the production of bio-aviation fuel with ethanol mix, which would lower costs for airlines.

Speaking at the Mint Mobility Conclave, the minister noted that the aviation sector is going through difficult times amid steep fuel costs, and 75% of the cost of airlines now go towards fuel costs.

“If we can make ethanol at 99.5% purity, that will be aviation fuel... Here, we can make bio-aviation fuel; we are in the process, and we expect (to produce bio jet fuel) as early as possible," he said.

He noted that the government is promoting the production of ethanol in the country from several sources, including sugar, bamboo and grains.

The minister also stressed the need to adopt ethanol as an alternative fuel for vehicles.

Gadkari referred to a Russian technology to produce ethanol with the same calorific value as that of petrol, adding that in the next five years, ethanol-based fuel would be half of that of petrol.

The minister said that the much-anticipated flex engine vehicles are likely to be launched next month in the country, adding such engines are already in use in Brazil, Canada and the US. Flex engines have an internal combustion engine and can operate on petrol and any blend of petrol and ethanol up to 83%.

The stress on ethanol adoption for mobility comes as the Centre plans to introduce 20% ethanol blending with gasoline in some parts of the country from April next year, followed by a nationwide rollout from 2025-26.

The country has achieved the target of 10% ethanol blending in petrol five months ahead of schedule, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said last month, which is up from 1.5% in 2014. 20% ethanol-blended petrol may be available at select petrol pumps in the country ahead of the April 2023 target, according to Hardeep Singh Puri, Union minister for petroleum and natural gas.

Along with pollution control, Gadkari said the use of ethanol for mobility will help in lowering India’s crude import bill of 16 trillion, as India consumes about 30% of the world’s fossil fuel needs.

He also said the transport sector contributes 330 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents annually, out of which roadways contributes 92%. Total emissions from transportation is likely to rise 3.3 times by 2050 from the 2020 levels.

The minister stressed on the adoption of several alternative fuels apart from ethanol, including methanol, bio-diesel, bio-CNG, LNG, green hydrogen and power (EV).

Describing hydrogen as the fuel of the future, he said that the target is to bring down the price of green hydrogen to $1 per kg. Gadkari also said that work is underway to blend 15% ethanol in diesel.

Speaking on futuristic mobility solutions, the transport minister touched upon the integration of all public transport modes and providing last-mile connectivity by ropeway, cable car and funicular rail.

He was of the view that the automobile sector should be the growth engine for the Indian economy. Noting that the size of the Indian auto industry is 7.5 trillion, the minister said: “My objective is to make it 15 trillion in the coming years."

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