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Biodiesel Technology – Need of the hour for India


The non-renewability, environmental concerns and health hazards associated with the fossil fuels has led to exploration of alternative sources of energy to substitute the traditional ones. A promising technology, still in its infancy, that could show us the way to the future ahead is Biodiesels. Biodiesels are diesel fuels derived from vegetable oil or animal-fat that could be used to run diesel engines. Vegetables oils like sunflower, rape seed, palm oil, soya bean, Jatropha etc can be subjected to oil processing to produce biodiesels. It contains no petroleum but can be blended with petroleum diesel for use or could be used in its pure form.
Developed nations especially United States and European Countries have already made considerable advances in the Biodiesel Technology. Biodiesel have found its use across industries and verticals and could emerge as an ideal cleaner and cheaper alternative to petrol, diesel and fossil fuels. India has also begun exploring the opportunities to produce and use bio-diesel. A number of plants for biodiesel transesterification are already functioning in the country where vegetable oils are reacted with alcohols (ethanol or methanol generally) to produce bio-diesel.
The main reason for the increasing demand for biodiesels is the fact that biodiesels are renewable and carbon-neutral, thus having no net impact on the climate. Besides, bio-diesel operates in compression engines just like normal petroleum diesel and hence can be used with little or no engine modifications. Biodiesel do not require any separate infrastructure for its storage and can be stored just like the petroleum based fuels.
Considering the growing energy demand in the country, rising petroleum prices and the environmental hazards of fossil fuels, the Indian Government has taken up initiatives to develop the Bio Diesel Technology in India and set up more oil processing units. The Government announced its ‘National Biofuel Policy’ on 12 September 2008 which aims to meet 20% of India’s diesel demand with bio-fuels in the coming years.
Globally, edible vegetable oils like sunflower, soya bean, rape seed, palm oil are used as the pre-dominant raw materials for oil processing and biodiesel production but in India the maximum potential to produce biodiesels is from Jatropha oil – a non-edible one produced from the seeds of the Jatropha curcas. The biggest advantage of using Jatropha as a raw material is that this plant can be grown in huge quantities in wastelands all across India needing very little water in comparison to other cash crops. Once grown, the plant has a useful lifespan of several decades. The Jatropha seeds contain 40% oil and are considered to be an excellent source of bio-diesel. The Government of India has identified 400,000 square kilometres of land suitable for the Jatropha cultivation in the country. India now
A study estimates that even if a blending initiative of 2% Jatropha based Biodiesel is achieved in 2011-12, India will save around Rs. 3000 crores. Besides, it will generate around Rs. 5500 crores in the rural economy and help in reduction of Green House Gas emission by 3 Million Metric Tonnes (MMT) every year. The government is taking steps to encourage the cultivation of Jatropha in India providing free seeds, subsidized loans and other facilities. India needs to now strengthen its efforts to make the fullest use of the Biodiesel Technology. Besides Jatropha, the avenues for extracting biodiesel from vegetable oils, fats, sunflower, rape seed oil and palm oil should also be explored. It will not only provide an answer to the challenge of Global Warming but could decrease our dependence on foreign oil and contribute to our own economy.

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