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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Jatropha: The emerging renewable sources of fuel

Jatropha: The emerging renewable sources of fuel
Oil grows on Trees – Times of India 1st April 2005

By Mrs. Leena Mehendale & Mr. Ranjan Goswami

Twentieth Century saw an extensive use of fossil fuel that led to today’s fast moving economy and industrialization all over the world. This economic development all around, however, also realized a closed chain amongst fossil fuel, industrialization & global warming. While industrialization is essential for the economic growth of any country, global warming is equally alarming for the entire world. Wise men therefore are continuously attempting to break this chain and reduce the significance of global warming, if not remove it completely. A growing number of scientific researchers and political leaders have urged prompt conservation of fossil fuels by investing immediately in energy-efficient vehicles, machinery, and structures and by gradually shifting to alternative sources of energy. The reason most commonly given in support of fossil fuel conservation is that “Petroleum Resources are finite” and “the need to prevent future global climate change”. Most of these arguments say, “fossil fuels provide about 95 percent of the commercial energy used in the world economy”..... “Combustion of those fuels constitutes the largest source of emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases”. Most scientists agree that such emissions cannot be continued indefinitely at current or increasing levels without causing devastating effects on ecosystems and on people. Electricity generated from fossil fuels such as coal and crude oil has led to high concentrations of harmful gases in the atmosphere. This has in turn led to many problems being faced today such as ozone depletion and global warming.
There is an interesting angle to the use of fossil fuel. Petrochemicals, the non-fuel uses of fossil fuel plays a very important role in reduction of global warming in comparison to the burning of fossil fuel. The environmental effect from burning of 1000 tonnes of petroleum products is much higher than the effect from the use of same amount of petrochemicals. Transport & Industry are the most intensive sectors of using fossil fuel, the burning of which cause the much talked-about environmental pollution. The consumption of non-renewable sources of energy, thus, has caused more environmental damage than any other human activity. When we talk about industries, the alternatives may be coal, electricity & bio-mass, while when we look into transport sector, the alternatives are hydrogen fuel-cell, solar charged batteries and bio-diesel. Therefore, alternative sources of energy have become very important and relevant to today’s world. They cause less emission and are available locally. Their use can, to a large extent, reduce chemical, radioactive, and thermal pollution. They stand out as a viable source of clean and limitless energy, as a source of non-conventional energy. Most of the renewable sources of energy are fairly non-polluting and considered clean.
In Indian context, “Bio-diesel”, as a source of alternative and renewable source of energy has started gaining momentum in a big way. Biodiesel (fatty acid alkyl esters) is a cleaner burning diesel replacement fuel made from natural, renewable sources such as Tree Borne Oilseed and Animal Fats. Just like petroleum diesel, bio-diesel also operates in compression-ignition engines similarly. Blends of up to 20% bio-diesel (mixed with petroleum diesel fuels) can be used in nearly all diesel equipment and are compatible with most storage and distribution equipment. These low-level blends (20% and less) generally do not require any engine modifications. Bio-diesel can provide the same payload capacity and as diesel.
The data of auto-fuel consumption, 2004 shows that our country has a consumption of 9 MMT of gasoline & 42 MMT of diesel, while our crude import bill is Rs. 1,10,000 Crores. A blend of ethanol & bio-diesel will, therefore, make a big difference both in our import bill as well in the environmental impact. Bio-diesel has 10% built-in oxygen and its cetane no. is 55, which shows that it can burn efficiently. Efficient fuel burning would therefore lead to less fuel use and this fact combined with CO2 sequestration by plants would lead to GHG mitigation through bio-diesel usage.
Jatropha Curcas has been identified for India as the most suitable Tree Borne Oilseed (TBO) for production of bio-diesel both in view of the non-edible oil available from it and its presence all throughout the country. The capacity of Jatropha Curcas to rehabilitate degraded or dry lands, from which the poor mostly derive their sustenance, by improving land’s water retention capacity, makes it additionally suitable for up-gradation of land resources. Presently, in some Indian villages, farmers are extracting oil from Jatropha and after settling and decanting it, they are mixing the filtered oil with diesel fuel. Although, so far the farmers have not observed any damage to their machinery, yet this remains to be tested and PCRA is working on it. The fact remains that this oil needs to be converted to bio-diesel though a chemical reaction, called “Trans-Esterification”. This reaction is relatively simple and does not require any exotic material. The R&D Division of IOCL has been using a laboratory scale plant of 100 kg/day capacity for trans-esterification and designing of larger capacity plants is in the offing. These larger plants are useful for centralized production of bio-diesel. Production of bio-diesel in smaller plants of capacity .5 to 20kg/day may also be started at decentralized level in villages.
These kind of small plants can well provide energy security to our remote and rural areas, while it would also contribute towards employment generation in these areas. As such, all kinds of Tree Borne Oilseeds, be it edible or no-edible can be used as a raw material for production of bio-diesel. But from the point of view of that India can not meet its current demand of edible oil from its available seeds, the option left out is non-edible oilseeds.
Jatropha plantation on wasteland is afforestation . 1 plant of jatropha can offset 0.15 tonnes of C02/year, while 200 plants may be grown in 1 hector of land. Assuning 10% mortality rate, 1 lakh hector of wasteland with jatropha can fetch 27 million CER (1 CER=1 tonne of carbon mitigated). A study has revealed that by 2006-07, the demand of petro-diesel will be 52 MMT. 5% blend with bio-diesel will require 2.6 MMT of bio-diesel. Land area required for jatropha plantation for this would be 2.5 Million Hector. The comparative figures projected for the year 2010-11 are 67 MMT of petro-diesel, 13.4 MMT of bio-diesel and 13 Million hector.
The beginning of 2004 saw the common farmers using jatropha oil, whereas industry & science didn’t. The year 2004 saw enough R&D on bio-diesel and confirmed its blending with petro-diesel in transport sector. Thus transport sector is the biggest challenge for use of bio-diesel. Today, the terms B5, B10, B20 have started becoming common, which means 5% blending, 10% blending etc.
What we need is to push in bio-diesel is P-P-U, i.e. Production, Purchase & Use. Today, we see an adhoc purchase and hence adhoc production and therefore high cost of production that leads to low demand. Instead, if we try to keep a steady flow of demand it would require sustaining production that would eventually bring down the cost. Farmers are not encouraged to grow Jatropha when the purchase of bio-diesel is so low. Thus it becomes a vicious cycle – high price leads to low demand – low demand leads to non-establishment of supply chain –which in turn results in high prices.
Current annual petro-diesel consumption in the country is around 40 MMT. For blending 5% bio-diesel in petro-diesel, India needs around 2 MMT of bio-diesel annually at present. Initial incentives have been given to promote green fuels by various countries. It is proposed that a limited subsidy be given on a fast reducing scale for a limited time. This would help in establishing supply chains quickly. The proposed model of subsidy envisages the purchase of bio-diesel @ landed price of Rs. 40/litre for first 6 months, then Rs. 35/- for next 6 months & Rs. 30/- for 13th to 18th month. Thereafter it may be purchased @minimum support price of Rs. 25/litre, i.e. without any subsidy but with only tax concessions. This will bring down the cost of seed from Rs. 12/- to Rs. 5/-.
PCRA has already developed institutional linkages for research & development in the field of bio-diesel with Delhi College of Engineering and other R&D Institutes. With this initiative, a simple technology & equipment for esterification of bio-diesel on small & medium scale has also been developed.
What is required now is to spread the knowledge of bio-diesel to the farmers of the country and a consolidated effort from the Govt. of India, the associated bodies and NGOs to bring in the subsidy to bio-diesel production.

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