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India Faces a Hard Choice — Eat or Drive?

As the clampdown on Russian oil continues, economies that rely on biofuels will soon face a difficult choice.

India is rapidly approaching an existential choice: eat or drive. That choice is being driven by decisions made years ago that placed ethanol as a means of reducing oil imports and using domestic resources more appropriately, but with the invasion of Ukraine and hence the reduction in grain available globally, the people of India may be placed on the horns of a dilemma.

Simply: do we eat, or do we drive?

India Ethanol

Image courtesy Hindustan Times.

Of course, it is the poor who will suffer. India is a prime example. India’s 2025 target for 20% ethanol blending in petrol requires large increases in ethanol from sugar and grains. A new report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) shows that generating solar energy to recharge electric vehicle (EV) batteries would be a far more efficient use of land than growing crops for ethanol.

One hectare of solar generation will power an electric vehicle to drive as far as an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle powered by ethanol produced from up to 251 hectares of sugar cane. Further, solar arrays do not require good quality land. A move towards EV use will reduce pressure on food stocks.

“This large-scale diversion of agricultural land for ethanol blending conflicts with other key priorities for food production, water use and renewable energy adoption,” says report author and guest contributor Dr. Charles Worringham. “While the government’s promotion of ethanol blending in petrol may seem like a way to ease the burden of soaring crude oil prices, it further increases the pressure on agricultural land just as the war in Ukraine threatens the world’s grain supply. This intensifies the competition between energy and food and raises the stakes for wise land use in India significantly.”

Remember, 26% of the world’s wheat exports come from Russia and Ukraine, as well as 16% of corn exports. There will be knock-on effects in countries that produce large amounts of grain. Hopefully, a ramp up of production in countries like Australia will prevent a price-caused famine. The cost of ethanol in Brazil might also rise and cause the population to move towards EVs.
Food trumps energy. Famine promotes revolution.

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Written By

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].


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