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[NEW DELHI] India has made the use of 'gasohol' — petrol mixed with five per cent ethanol — compulsory in nine of its states.

The move, which stems both from environment and economic concerns, is expected to reduce emissions of polluting gases such as carbon monoxide from vehicles by up to 10 per cent.

It will also help curb India’s huge import bills on crude oil. India spends US$16 billion per year to import 78 million tonnes of crude oil — 70 per cent of its needs. And it will give a boost to farmers that produce sugarcane, which is fermented to make ethanol.

Gasohol is slightly cheaper — by one rupee (US$0.02) — than normal petrol, and vehicles do not need to be adapted to run on the fuel.

Meanwhile, the public sector Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) is planning to launch a blended fuel with higher — 10 per cent — alcohol content by 2004. Brazil, which served as a role model for India, uses 22 per cent alcohol in its blended fuel. Brazil and the United States have been using ethanol-blended fuels for more than a decade.

Gasohol marks the second major green fuel to be adopted by India. In an attempt to curb Delhi’s worsening air pollution, the Delhi state government last year banned the use of diesel in buses and replaced it with compressed natural gas. The move has reduced air pollution levels in the Indian capital, which was ranked five years ago as the world’s fourth most polluted city.

India’s switch to gasohol comes some three decades after the idea was first mooted in the 1970s. But the petrol-ethanol blend is only a small step forward; diesel accounts for almost four-fifths of Indian vehicles.