Home arrow Archives arrow Open Forum arrow Open Forum 2006 arrow New Energy Avenue:Exploring Biofuel Use ESSENTIAL,Dhurjati Mukherjee, 28 September 2006
News and Features
INFA Digest
Parliament Spotlight
Journalism Awards
New Energy Avenue:Exploring Biofuel Use ESSENTIAL,Dhurjati Mukherjee, 28 September 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 28 September 2006

New Energy Avenue

Exploring Biofuel Use ESSENTIAL

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The exploration of bio-fuels has become essential at such a critical juncture when there is all-round energy crisis. The prices of oil have been on the rise and presently shot up to over $ 70 per barrel. In such a situation the dependability on fossil material-based systems with its uncertainty, it is essential that an energy policy be evolved with new energy avenues. This is all the more necessary because the ethanol and bio-fuels movement is gaining momentum worldwide.

Even President, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam pointed out at a recent international conference at Hyderabad that efforts should be made, under public-private partnership, to achieve a target of 60 million tonnes of bio-diesel production per year by 2030 for meeting India’s energy needs. According to him, as a first step towards reaching this capacity, there is need to plan for 6 million tonnes production by the year 2010 that is, 5 per cent of the present import of oil.  Progressively, he urged the need to improve the plantation and yield towards achieving 30 million tonnes of bio-diesel by 2020.

As India has nearly 60 million tonnes of wasteland, about 30 million hectares could be made available for energy plantations with a minimum of TWO tonnes of bio-diesel per year per hectare, Kalam suggested. Not just the President but eminent experts at various research institutes have been seriously delving on this issue for quite a few years.

At a very thought-provoking international meet of experts on bio-fuel, organized by the Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI), there was a discussion on a strategy to promote bio-fuels and finalize a vision document for the year 2012 to identify research and development to make this strategy implementable and to sensitize policy-makers on the issue. It was here that presentations were made on the use of ethanol from sugar cane (molasses), bio-diesel from plants such as jatropha and karanj and case studies of a few states on progress made so far.

The discussion on bio-fuels has been taken a step further by the compilation of experiences of experts in a recent book titled Biofuels: Towards a greener and secure energy future by TERI. The book is quite comprehensive and possibly for the first time provides an assessment of the state-of-the-art knowledge on the production, conversion and use of bio-fuels and its economic, environmental and social benefits such as employment generation, particularly in the rural sector.

such conferences and publications should make us alert that there is no alternative but to think of bio-fuels alternative (and others as well) considering that by 2030, India will be consuming 5.6 million barrels of oil a day out of which 94 per cent will be met through imports.

The volume has delved into international experiences of Brazil, USA, Europe and China (papers by Oswaldo Lucon and Prabha Dhavala) and shown how the bio-fuels mission across the globe has gained momentum. It is understood that 6 million vehicles in the USA and almost all vehicles in Brazil are FFV (flexible fuel vehicles) capable of using ethanol in mixtures of up to 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent petrol (gasoline). One may mention here that the USA released a ‘road map’ recently for bio-fuel research aimed at achieving its target of replacing 30 per cent of the 2004-level petrol consumption with bio-fuels by the year 2030. Thus, as R. Mondal and Parveen Misra rightly observes, “if the country hopes to reduce its oil dependence through bio-fuels, it should target production of sufficient bio-ethanol from different feedstock (sugar cane, sweet sorghum and cellulose) and promote the use of FFVs on its roads”.       

There have been discussions regarding jatropha cultivation in the country, specially in the wastelands as it are well adapted to arid and semi-arid conditions. Its introduction in India in a wide range of soils from coastal zones to the Himalayas with rainfall ranging from 300mm to 1000mm has been found to be very useful. Many experts have recommended intercropping with grasses, legumes, medicinal plants and animals and this has been well brought out in the well-researched paper of Padam Prakash Bhojvaid of TERI. The plantation cost ranges from Rs 18,000 to Rs 30,000 per hectare.

It is understood that TERI has achieved a “technological breakthrough by mass cultivation of a consortium of mycorrhizae” and 60,000 plants of jatropha using mycorrhizae have been established across the country. Another important paper of A. K. Gupta of the Indian Institute of Petroleum has specifically enumerated the advantages of using bio-diesel. The advantages are: very low sulphur content; no aromatics, no net carbon dioxide addition to the environment; about 99.6 per cent biodegradability within 21 days, and renewable source.

Though experts believe that it may be difficult to use B100 (100 per cent bio-diesel) B 20 (20 per cent bio-diesel) is generally recommended if the fuel is of high quality. However, World-Wide Fuel Charter, endorsed by auto and engine manufacturers ion the United States, recommends bio-diesel blends of 5 per cent.

The economic evaluation of bio-diesel production is an important aspect and Anandajit Goswami of TERI has explained this very well. According to him, “the minimum capacity for a viable of a transesterification technology is 30 tonnes per day, without affecting bio-diesel yield and quality”. He has further informed that the optimum minimum area for such a capacity of transesterification unit is approximately 8000 hectares and the payback period of such a project is between 6 and 7 years, considering various factors.

The bio-diesel experiments being carried out in some of the states like Chattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Andhra Pradesh has been discussed as also the progress being made but it is necessary to spread the cultivation of jatropha on a much larger scale. There can be no denying that there is an imperative need to utilize at least a part of our 63 million hectares of wasteland for jatropha plantation.

If at least one-third of the earmarked plantation on wasteland is cultivated with jatropha it would yield a revenue of Rs 20,000 crore a year, according to estimates by the rural development ministry. Realizing the potential, Reliance Industries has taken the initiative to allocate Rs 1500 crore for jatropha cultivation and extract and Rs 500 crore for setting up a bio-diesel refinery at its Jamnagar Refinery.

The proposed National Biodiesel Board should be set up immediately to promote, finance and support organizations that are engaged in the field of oilseed cultivation and oil processing, leading to bio-diesel production. If energy independence has to be the nation’s priority, as our President, Dr Kalam has visualized, R&D efforts in bio-diesel production have to be intensified through joint efforts of the Centre and the states. Considering the increasing necessity for power for an emerging economy like ours, it is necessary to focus attention on bio-diesel, which experts rightly believe can work wonders for the country, if planned and implemented in a proper manner.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

< Previous   Next >
  Mambo powered by Best-IT