ETHANOL TO HELP CONTAIN OIL IMPORT BILL
SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Mar 10 - 16, 2008
For decades Pakistani entrepreneurs have been exporting molasses because foreign buyers were offering attractive price but hardly realized that its conversion into value added products can help in containing country's import bill. The oil crises of seventies forced the developed countries to work on developing alternative energy sources. When the problem started brewing crude oil price was around two dollars per barrel and now its price is hovering above 100 dollar per barrel.
With crude oil becoming precious prices of every item have been going up in general and prices of POL products in particular. The largest percentage of POL products is used in transport sector. As prices of motor gasoline became unaffordable quest for alternative fuels started from gasoline to diesel and to CNG but availability of hydrocarbons remains limited reserves, in fact depleting. This forced the researchers to look for renewable energy sources and they found bio-fuels not only comparatively cheaper but also eco-friendly.
While the researchers were working hard the policy planners in Pakistan never realized that they also have to develop alternative sources of energy. The result is that Pakistan's oil bill during the first half of current financial touched five billion dollar and full year bill may exceed ten billion dollars. It was only lately that automobile companies started rolling out cars with factory-fitted CNG kits. The result is that one could see long queues of car waiting to fill CNG at the dispensing stations.
However, this winter not only industrial consumers of gas have to face sever load shedding but CNG stations remained close up to 12 hours daily. This was despite the fact that public transport has not switched over to CNG use as yet in any significant manner. CNG is mainly used in cars and rickshaws (sold under President's rozgar scheme) whereas taxis and two stroke rickshaws are mostly using LPG.
The proposal to sell biofuel (Motor gasoline blended with alcohol) has not become reality as yet. According to some sector experts the biggest opponent of the blended fuel are the local refineries. This resistance is because country has already achieved self-sufficiency in motor gasoline. A large percentage of motorists have already moved on to CNG use and popularity of ethanol could result in glut of gasoline in the country.
However, in the larger interest of country the government has no alternative but to make sale of blended fuel (10% alcohol and 90% gasoline) compulsory. This can help in reducing crude oil import bill. It will also help in saving gas being used by the private cars. According to some experts burning gas in power plants and in vehicles is the worst proposition.
This year sugarcane crop size is estimated around 60 million tons, which will be sufficient to produce above 4 million tons refined sugar and 2 million ton molasses. This is despite the fact the average capacity utilization of sugar mills is less than 50%. If the country succeeds in doubling sugarcane output not only more sugar will be available for local consumption and export but above 4 million ton molasses will be available for producing ethanol.
Currently 77 sugar mills are operating in the country but only 22 mills have attached distilleries. It is because mill owners prefer to export molasses rather than converting it into value-added products. The situation has prevailed because western buyers have been offering very attractive prices. However, Pakistanis never try to find out why the buyers were ready to offer higher price?
According to some sector experts, buyers know that Pakistani mills are inefficient and molasses contains very high percentage of sucrose. Therefore, Pakistani molasses has always attracted higher price. On top of this distilleries are also inefficient and at the best can only extract a few products. Therefore, mills found exporting molasses more attractive business.
Many countries around the world use some of the cereals for producing bio-fuel. Is it not a pity that we take pride in calling Pakistan an agro-based economy but could not convert molasses into ethanol? In fact Pakistan should have been exporting ethanol. This point should have been realized by the Sindh government and mills located in the province that production of ethanol can improve economic viability of the mills. Proximity to two sea ports capable of handling bulk liquid gives them edge over mills located in northern parts of the country.
With fuel prices on the rise and touching record levels, interest in hybrid and alternative fueled vehicles is also growing. Questions are being asked about ethanol as a fuel and the best choices for hybrid vehicles.
Ethanol began being used in 1979 and auto manufactures did not address the use of ethanol blended fuels. When they began testing vehicles with the new blended fuels, they were able to approve the use of the 10% ethanol blended fuels.
All engines built from 1970 can use the 10% ethanol blended fuels with no problems or modifications. A carbureted engine may need an adjustment to take full advantage of the fuel.
The concern about older engines came about because of the lead phase-out. Lead oxides that were formed during combustion provided a cushion that reduced wear on non-case-hardened valve seats. Therefore, it is the absence of lead, not the presence of ethanol that is of concern.
Ethanol, a renewable fuel made from agricultural feed stocks is one of the best tools to fight air pollution.
Ethanol lowers harmful carbon monoxide (CO) emissions by 30%.
Ethanol reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 27%.
The use of clean-burning ethanol reduces the amount of noxious fumes and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that standard gasoline spews into the air. Those VOCs eventually clog our lungs.
Ethanol reduces particulate emissions, especially fine particulates that pose a health threat to children, senior citizens, and those with respiratory ailments.
Ethanol is the safest component in gasoline today. A study has concluded that ethanol poses no threat to surface or ground water. Since ethanol is a naturally occurring substance produced during the fermentation of organic matter, it is expected to rapidly biodegrade in essentially all environments.
The US Environmental Protection Agency credits reformulated gasoline (that contains ethanol) with reducing and controlling hazardous emissions, which threaten air quality.
According to another study vehicles that use ethanol actually help offset fossil fuels' greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming, by 35% to 46%.
Ethanol is widely used in the US in the winter oxygenated fuels program and the reformulated gasoline program in cities that exceed public health standards for carbon monoxide and ozone pollution.
Currently more than one-third of the US gasoline contains some level of oxygenates (such as ethanol), in order to reduce harmful emissions and improve air quality.
Renewable ethanol is extremely energy-efficient. Every 100 BTUs of energy used to produce ethanol (including planting, cultivating, harvesting, and processing) yield 167 BTUs of ethanol.