India’s Ongoing Incentives to Develop Alternative Fuels : Cultivation of jatropha for biodiesel and dhaincha for biomass very promising

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Global warming is engulfing the biosphere at a rapid pace, setting in motion strange climatic changes. Humans are paying the price of messing with the environment over the centuries, while continuing to do so.

Pollution levels are at an all-time high in India’s capital, Delhi, with other metro regions like Mumbai and Calcutta vying for second place.

The increasing industrial and residential use of diesel generators is adding to the global warmup, even at the village level, while the search for alternative fuels continues unabated.

jatropha plant

The cultivation of the jatropha plant in the western States of Goa and Maharashtra and dhaincha in the northeastern State of Bihar is increasingly being promoted as promising an alternative to diesel fuel in India.

In Goa, biodiesel derived from Jatropha curcas, locally known as “erond,” is becoming more widespread. Fr. Inacio Almeida, of Pilar, Goa, runs the Nature Farm of the Society of Pilar (or Society of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier-ed.) and is a leading popularizer of jatropha as a feedstock for the production of biodiesel. Jatropha until recently was routinely used as stumps for damming paddy fields and orchards.

“One liter of fuel can be extracted from 3 kg of jatropha seeds,” says Fr. Almeida. Among the developments he envisions is for “each village in Goa to have its own jatropha plantation and extraction machinery.”[*]

Generators using refined diesel have latterly been resorted to by householders, as well as small businesses, in Goa, in lieu of tapping into an increased central electrical generating capacity. This reliance is expected to change in the next few years, as jatropha biodiesel predominates.

Kanti Naik runs a small ice cream parlor in Assolna village in south Goa. As elsewhere in Goa the electrical power supply here is undependable, so he relies for backup power on a small, portable diesel generator worth INR 10,000 (US$228). Nearby, Alexander Barbosa also has recourse to a similar diesel generator for his cold-storage meat warehouse.

For these two businessmen the diesel generator has become a necessity, and increasing numbers of Goan householders have been using them to power their TV sets.

“For many villages it’s a case of either clean air or television,” says Nandita Mongia, chief of the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) Regional Energy Program for Asia and the Pacific.

Figures arrived at by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi point to a mushrooming of the number of these diesel generators throughout India.

The diesel-powered generator has been a hit with people across the country. A liter of refined diesel costs INR 13 (US$.30) vs INR 50 (US$1.14) for gasoline.[**]

Pretty cheap, compared with Western countries, given that India is not a major producer of oil.

India imports most of its petroleum products, which are heavily subsidized before they reach the retail market, especially gasoline, diesel fuel and kerosene.

In neighboring Maharashtra the State government plans to allocate 30,000 hectares or 74,000 acres for jatropha cultivation to private sector business; for example, Reliance Industries is looking to the State to provide land for jatropha cultivation. As a public sector investment, the Maharashtra Government plans to cultivate jatropha on 60,000 hectares or 148,000 acres of State-owned land.[***]

In the eastern State of Bihar, the small village of Baharbari, sandwiched between Nepal and Bangladesh, has taken the lead in using another alternative fuel, dhaincha, a weed that provides a source of biomass, taking the place of wood from shrubs and trees. This is a project that has attracted World Bank support, as offering a cheaper source of electricity compared with diesel.

A challenge to be overcome in popularizing alternative energy sources is getting the message across to the masses, which requires a sustained campaign by local leaders acting through religious institutions and schools to educate the younger generation.

If dhaincha and jatropha meet even one percent of India’s growing fuel needs, then this will be a great achievement.

[*] Four final-year students of the Hirasugar Institute of Technology, Belgaum, in the southern State of Karnataka, have designed and fabricated an ingenious “Bio-Diesel Processor” for the extraction of biodiesel from jatropha seeds. The foursome of Vainath Patil, Vishwanath Khambi, Shridhar Patil and Mitra used the fuel to run the college water pump.
[**] Trial runs of jatropha biodiesel after etherification have shown it to be eco-friendly, giving an extra “mileage” of 2 km (1.25 miles) vs refined diesel.
[***] It costs at least INR 10 (US$.23) less than conventional fuel, and the emissions do not contain carbon monoxide.
Article by Armstrong Augusto Vaz

2 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. Hi,

    I think that jatropha is the ideal feedstock because it grows on marginal land so the food / fuel security debate is not an issue…


    Article shows how intercroping works!

    Here is another short article showing you how easy it is to refine Crude Jatropha Oil into Bio Diesel without any complicated machinery!


    We all need to be aware of how clean green biofuel feedstocks like jatropha can help fuel sustainable transport!


    1. Tim on March 27th, 2011 at 7:20 pm
  2. Hi
    i want to plant a jatropha in our state

    please suggest me a seed

    3. vijay on August 21st, 2008 at 1:23 am

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