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ICPEP-3 (2005) Souvenir

Biodiesel: Hitting the target

H M Behl

National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow- 226001, India


Countries have their own priorities and vision for growth. Energy, however, remains the mainstay for all civilized world. The priorities may lay in cost economics, environment friendliness, import substitution, or self-sufficiency as strategic objective. Energy is one of the priority areas for the Nation. Indian scenario is unique and different from other developed or developing countries. It has vast areas that are wastelands and are not being utilized for cultivation since these are unfertile, dry, sodic, saline, or alkaline. Majority of its population lives in villages. The country has state of art technologies with high tech establishments. Human resource is available in plenty. It has achieved self-sufficiency in food sector, however energy and environment are sectors that are of concern for policy makers and scientists.

The country is deficient in edible as well as non-edible oil resources (Table 1). Its imports of edible oil are increasing with ever increasing demand. Non-edible oil resources too are scarce and underutilized. Vegetable oil offers immense opportunity to substitute fossil fuel to meet energy demands.

Oil provides energy for 95 % of transportation in India and the demand for transport fuel continue to rise. The requirement of diesel (HSD) is expected to grow from 39.815 MMT in 2001-02 to 52.324 MMT in 2006-07 and about 66 MMT in 2011-12. The domestic supply of crude oil will satisfy only about 22 % of this demand and the rest will have to be met from imported crude. Current consumption of petroleum is 120 MMT as against nearly 18 MMT in 1970.

All countries of the world, including those with surplus energy are banking upon vegetable oil as alternative source of energy by way of biodiesel. Developing countries cannot afford to utilize edible vegetable oil or even used vegetable oil. However, many of these countries, like India, have large tracts of wastelands and tropical climate suitable for cultivating a variety of plants that yield non-edible oil. Cultivation for oil in degraded, waste, abandoned and abused lands will provide sustainability, employment generation, and much needed oil to replace fossil fuels. The development of the nation is intricately interwoven with sustainability in energy.

Dr. Abdul Kalam, Honourable President of India has given a vision for the country. It includes:

  • Bringing an additional 10 million ha of land under assured irrigation

  • Providing road-connectivity to all villages having a population of 1000 (or 500 in hilly/tribal areas)

  • Providing drinking water to the remaining 74,000 habitations that are uncovered

  • Reaching electricity to the remaining 1,25,000 villages and electricity connections to 23 million households

  • Developing biodiesel from Jatropha curcas as alternative energy resource in the country

Jatropha curcas: the magic option

Bio-diesel, the renewable liquid fuel from biological raw material is a good substitute for petroleum diesel. The country has a ray of hope since there is a potential to grow a variety of plants in different habitats. Jatropha curcas is the first choice for it can grow at saline to alkaline soils, in arid to semi-arid conditions, low slopes of hilly areas, degraded and abused soils. It does not need protection from grazing and browsing animals that number five times the carrying capacity of the nation.

Bio-diesel is gaining worldwide acceptance as an environmental friendly solution to energy problem. It is an accepted option for energy security, reduction in imports, rural employment, and improving agriculture economy. Bio-diesel results in substantial reduction of unburnt hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOCL) reported that maintenance cost of vehicles run on Bio-diesel has reduced substantially. The Bio-diesel has no Sulphur, no aromatics and has about 10% built-in oxygen that helps it to burn freely. Higher cetane number improves the combustion.

USA uses soybean for Bio-diesel while many European countries are using rapeseed or sunflower, frying oil and animal fat in Ireland, castor oil is the option for Brazil, coconut oil for Malaysia, palm oil in Thailand and Philippines, cotton seed in Greece, linseed in Spain, and Jatropha curcas or Pongamia pinnata for India. It has several alternatives such as Neem (Azadirachta indica), Karanj (Pongamia pinnata), Meswak (Salvadora species), Mahua (Madhuca indica), Rubber (Hevea species), Castor (Ricinus communis), Diploknema butracea , Garcinia species, Tung etc. Jatropha curcas produces 1 to 6 kg (there are reports of 15 kg) per tree and seeds have 30 to 40% (total seed with kernel basis) oil. Fruiting initiates in less than two years and the yield optimizes in the fourth to fifth year and the plant produces seeds for nearly 50 years. With 2 kg a tree one hectare will provide nearly 1.5 tonnes of biodiesel apart from 3.5 tonnes of cake biomass.

Current status of Bio-diesel in the country

  1. The Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas has laid down a Bio-diesel Purchase Policy which will come into effect from January 1, 2006 which prescribes that companies shall purchase Bio-diesel of standard quality through its notified centers at Rs. 25 a liter (initially). Depending upon the market conditions, the Oil Companies shall be free to review the price every six months. The Policy recognizes the vital role that can be played by the Panchayati Raj institutions in promotion of Bio-diesel. The policy notes that the Panchayati Raj institutions may in consultation with National Oilseeds & Vegetable Oils Board (NOVOD), Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) who are working on a network program for making available good quality plants, prepare and consolidate plans for cultivation of oil (non-edible) bearing trees.

  2. Petroleum Conservation Research Association (PCRA) has opened a National Biofuel Center (NBC) at its headquarter in New Delhi that has information from “root-to-canopy” information to educate masses and information sharing www.pcra-biofuels.org.

  3. PCRA has also introduced a Bio-diesel Bank that recognizes efforts of various bodies in promoting Bio-diesel. The Bank awards credit points for the work done on propagation, promotion, R&D efforts, imparting training, developing plants & machinery to promote Bio-diesel.

  4. Uttranchal state has constituted Bio-fuel Board (UBB) for promotion of Bio-diesel in the state. Chhattisgarh ha formed a Biofuel Development Authority (CBDA). Andhra Pradesh government has set up a Task Force. Several other states have either formed task forces or promoted NGOs to take up plantation.

  5. National Oilseeds & Vegetable Oils Board (NOVOD) has implemented an R&D network program in the country to develop practices for cultivation in nearly 1800 hectares in the country.

  6. Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has initiated a Biofuel Mission and Jatropha micro mission to select good germplasm, develop quality planting material and standardizing agro techniques.

  7. CSIR has initiated a network program for genetic enhancement in association with industry under its prestigious NMITLI program.

  8. National Botanical Research Institute Lucknow in association with Biotech Park, Lucknow has initiated efforts to educate farmers, industry and entrepreneurs, develop a model nursery, model plantation and certification of seeds for their oil. It has also partnered with IIP, Dehradun for providing end-to-end technology to industry. It is providing consultancy to several companies including Tatas.

  9. Shatabadi trains are using B5 since December 2002 for their test runs.

  10. Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has tested passenger cars in association with Tatas. HPCLhas carried out tests with BEST in Mumbai.

  11. Gujarat State Road Transport and Haryana state is running its buses (Rewari depot) using B5.

  12. Southern Railway is using 100% bio-fuel for running heavy vehicles like trucks, cranes, forklifts, jeeps and tractors.

  13. Daimler Chrysler has taken a 5000 km test run of Mercedes using B5 in collaboration with CSMCRI.

  14. D1 of U.K. has drawn enthusiastic plans to develop Bio-diesel in the country.

  15. Several NGOs have plunged into Bio-diesel program and are cultivating Jatropha curcas for seed production.

The approach

The country ahs nearly 63 million hectares of wasteland, out of which 33 million hectares of wasteland have been allotted for tree plantation. Collective effort of farmers, NGOs, contract farming, industry and international promoters can produce sufficient feedstock to achieve Bio-diesel mix of 5 % in conventional diesel. The PURA concept of Dr. Abdul Kalam, Honourable President of India provides a good model for Jatropha curcas plantation and production of Bio-diesel. The President proposes that Bio-diesel plants grown in 11 million hectares of land can yield a revenue of approximately Rs. 20,000 crores a year and provide employment to over 12 million people both for plantation and running of the extraction plants. This is a sustainable development process leading to large-scale employment of rural manpower. Also, it will reduce the foreign exchange outflow paid for importing crude oil, the cost of which is continuously rising in the international market. He further states, “Can there be a better project than this for coherent development of our rural sector and sustainable business preposition for industry?”

Dandeli Ferro alloys [Karnataka] established in 1955 is a heavy consumer of electricity. It converted all five of their 1 MW diesel engines to run on biodiesel in Feb. 2001 and generated 760,000 kWh of energy entirely from Pongamia oil. Pongamia pinnata is another viable option as the country has large number of Pongamia pinnata trees in almost all the states.

Energy Independence: Vision of President of India

Energy is the lifeline of modern societies. But today, India has 17% of the world's population, and just 0.8% of the world's known oil and natural gas resources. We might expand the use of our coal reserves for some time and that too at a cost and with environmental challenges. The climate of the globe as a whole is changing. Our water resources are also diminishing at a faster rate. As it is said, energy and water demand will soon surely be a defining characteristic of our people's life in the 21st Century. Energy Security rests on two principles. The first, to use the least amount of energy to provide services and cut down energy losses. The second, to secure access to all sources of energy including coal, oil and gas supplies worldwide, till the end of the fossil fuel era, which is fast approaching. Simultaneously we should access technologies to provide a diverse supply of reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable energy. With 114 million tonnes of annual requirement of oil we produce only about 25 % of our total requirement. The import cost today of oil and natural gas is over Rs. 1,200,000 million. Oil and gas prices are escalating; the barrel cost of oil has doubled within a year. The projections are that these might cross $100 a barrel. Dr. Abdul Kalam, Honourable President of India defines Energy Security, which means ensuring that our country can supply lifeline energy to all its citizens, at affordable costs at all times, is thus a very important and significant need and is an essential step forward. He challenges that it must be considered as a transition strategy, to enable us to achieve our real goal that is - Energy Independence or an economy, which will function well with total freedom from oil, gas or coal, imports. He identifies that “Energy Independence has to be our nation's first and highest priority. We must be determined to achieve this within the next 25 years i.e. by the year 2030”.

Vision for the oil sector, Dr. Abdul Kalam, Honourable President of India believes, “has to aim at providing to the nation at least 50% of its annual oil and gas need. Since we are dealing with fossil material resources, it may not be possible to meet this requirement fully from conventional oil exploration and extraction alone”.

Bio-fuel Enterprises & Societal Missions

Panchayats have nearly 4.3 lakhs of surplus land. Similarly Railways, industry and Public sector has and that is not put to optimum use. Large tracts of wastelands, rural human resources, tropical climate and ready (never to be saturated) market for the finished product makes Bio-diesel industry as a very attractive business. However there has to be a different paradigm and approach. There is a win-win situation for industry as well as society.

Bio-diesel also has to compete with diesel in prices even though it is environmentally clean and technically more efficient. There may be huge costs of transportation of seeds, extracted oil, finished bio-diesel, managing cake (nearly 70% of seed production) etc. Ideal set up will be one where transportation of these products except that of finished product is least. PURA concept of Dr. Abdul Kalam, Honourable President of India where clusters of villages produce feedstock, extract oil; purify it to make it ready for transesterification; and convert seed cake to energy and good fertilizer will be a paradigm shift. It will shift the industry to villages and not otherwise. It not only fulfills the dream of Dr. Abdul Kalam, Honourable President of India in providing economic connectivity in the village clusters but also perhaps is the only option for the country. Value addition by way of secondary products from oil & seed cake; alternative technologies and perfection of transesterification process involving least energy and least pollution till enzymatic conversion becomes feasible; and strategic and premeditated planning can take us to energy security. Indian model of bio-diesel production will be unique and will set a trend.


Oilwise / Monthwise Import of Non-Edible Oil for the Month of Nov. '04 To April '05
With Comparative Period for Previous Year (6 Months) in Bracket



Nov. 2004
Dec. 2004
Jan. 2005
Feb. 2005
Mar. 2005
Apr. 2005

P.K.F.A.D. – Palm Kernel Fatty Acid Distillate, P.F.A.D. - Palm Fatty Acid Distillate

C.P.S. – Crude Palm Stearin, C.P.K.O. – Crude Palm Kernel Oil

 Source: http://www.seaofindia.com/alltables/sea_imports%202004-05.htm

This article has been reproduced from the Souvenir released during the Third International Conference

on Plants & Environmental Pollution (ICPEP-3) held at Lucknow from  28 November to 2 December 2005.


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