Bio-diesel & Rural

Climate change, together with an increasing demand for energy, volatile oil prices, depleting natural resources and energy poverty have led to a search for alternative sources of energy that would be economically efficient, socially equitable and environmentally friendly. One option that has raised enormous public and private interest is bio-fuels. Farmers seek additional income and bio-fuels may have the potential to promote rural development and access to energy in our villages where wastelands for development of the bio-fuel crops are available in plenty, without affecting the food security. As a ‘readily available’ alternative, bio-fuels (especially bio-diesel) has the potential to revolutionize the transport sector. Encouraged by research indicating that bio-fuels could provide substantial energy while mitigating climate change, governments have supported production aimed at increasing bio-fuel use in many countries. The industry has invested significantly in production and technology development of biofuels.

Bio-fuels are combustible materials commonly produced from plants, animals, micro-organisms and organic wastes. They are classified into three generations. They are

First generation bio-fuels:
These can be commercially produced using conventional technology. The basic raw materials are seeds, grains or whole plants from crops such as corn, sugarcane, rapeseed, wheat, sunflower seeds or oil palm. The most common first generation bio-fuels are bio-ethonol, bio-diesel, vegetable oil and biogas.

Second generation bio-fuels:
These can be produced from a variety of non-food sources such as waste biomass, the stalks of wheat, wood and biomass crops. Many second-generation bio-fuels such as bio-hydrogen, bio-methanol, diesel, and mixed alcohols are under development.

Third generation bio-fuels:
This is a biofuel produced from algae which are also called algae fuel. Algae are feed-stocks from aquatic cultivation for the production of triglycerides to produce bio-diesel. The processing technology is basically the same as for bio-diesel from second-generation feedstocks.

Of all the bio-fuels, ‘biodiesel’ has emerged as the most secure self-reliant fuel and a source of renewable energy.

What is bio-diesel?

Bio-diesel is a vegetable oil or animal fat-based diesel fuel consisting of long-chain alkyl (methyl, propyl or ethyl) esters. Bio-diesel is typically made by chemically reacting lipids (e.g., vegetable oil, animal fat (tallow) with an alcohol. The main commodity sources of bio-diesel in India are non-edible oils obtained from plant species such as Jatropha curcas, Pongamia pinnata, Calophyllum inophyllum, Hevea brasiliensis etc.

Bio-diesel is meant to be used in standard diesel engines and is thus distinct from the vegetable and waste oils used to fuel converted diesel engines. Biodiesel can be used alone or blended with petrodiesel. Bio-diesel can be mixed with petroleum diesel in any percentage, from 1 to 99, which is represented by a number following a B. For example, B5 is 5 percent bio-diesel with 95 percent petroleum, B20 is 20 percent bio-diesel with 80 percent petroleum, or B100 is 100 percent bio-diesel, no petroleum.

Transesterification (separation of crude oil into pure bio-diesel and glycerin) of a vegetable oil was conducted as early as 1853 by scientists E. Duffy and J.Patrick, many years before the first Jatropha Plantation 16 diesel engine became functional. One hundred years ago, Rudolf Diesel tested vegetable oil as fuel for his engine. In 1911, he stated, “The diesel engine can be fed with vegetable oils and would help considerably in the development of agriculture of the countries which use it”.

Research into the use of transesterified sunflower oil, and refining it to diesel fuel standards, was initiated in South Africa in 1979. By 1983, the process for producing fuel-quality, engine-tested bio-diesel was completed and published internationally. An Austrian company, Gaskoks, obtained the technology from the South African Agricultural Engineers; the company erected the first bio-diesel pilot plant in November 1987, and the first industrial scale plant in April 1989.

Throughout the 1990s, plants were set up in many European countries, including the Czech Republic, Germany, and Sweden. France launched local production of bio-diesel fuel from rapeseed oil, which is mixed into regular diesel fuel at a level of 5%, and into the diesel fuel used by some public transportation at a level of 30%. 100% bio-diesel is now available at many normal service stations across Europe.

Among these, bio-diesel derived from plants is gaining importance due to its economic and environmental viability.

Production of improved feedstock / raw-material:

The major raw materials used for the production of the bio-diesel are (a) vegetable oil (b) alcohol (methanol, ethanol etc.). Total vegetable oil production in India is 6.67 million metric tons.

The studies all over the world on vegetable oils as the alternative fuels are mainly concentrated on field crops like rape seed oil, sunflower oil, soyabean oil, canola oil, used fried oil etc. In India, these oils are costly and are in short supply. For India, it appears that non-edible oils may be the choice feedstock for biodiesel seeds of Simarouba 17 production. At present, the most widely used raw material for bio-diesel in India is Jatropha and Pongamia. However, other species such as Simarouba and Neem etc. also offer enormous potential.

The potential of total non-edible oils in India is around 1,00,000 tons/annum. This quantity is not even sufficient for 0.25% replacement of diesel need of India. There is a need to increase the production of non-edible oil even to achieve a moderate target of 5.0% replacement of diesel with biodiesel. There is need to increase the area under utilization of genetically improved tree species which can produce better quality and quantity of oil. This would require systematic efforts towards tree improvement program, identification of Candidate Plus Trees (CPTs), standardization of nursery raising techniques (i.e. vegetative/seed/ tissue culture) so that high yielding genotypes could be produced for further plantation programs, which in turn could yield better quality and quantity of oil.

National Oil Seeds and Vegetable Oil Development Board (NOVOD), National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI), Bhavnagar, Leading Universities and other R&D institutions working in the similar field can play a lead role in developing high yielding varieties of CPTs specially Jatropha curcas. The other researchable issues, which need attention, are seed resource assessment, collection and their preservation, increasing the availability of seed, seed setting, inter-cropping with TBOS (Tree Borne Oil Seeds).

Selection of the Crop for production of bio-diesel:

This is perhaps the most important and also the most neglected issue. As mentioned earlier, for India it appears that non-edible oils are the choice feed stock for Bio-diesel production. There is need to collect scientific data to get the realistic figures on the yield pattern and on the oil content/ quality. Presently, most such figures are just based on preliminary studies and we have no pilot projects to support the data. To begin with, Jatropha curcas seems to be the most potential plant considering its favorable properties. Some reports indicate that Jatropha gives yields varying from 1-5 tons/ hectare to as high as 12 tons/ hectare. However, the types of genetic species, which give high yield, are not classified. There are enormous possibilities for selecting and breeding crops with higher yields of sustainable oil.

Biotechnology tools can be applied for producing high-quality elite planting material. Tissue culture technologies help in mass producing the elite identified clones.

Techniques of genetic engineering also offer a possibility of producing desirable material. Research effort should continue for identifying new and potential sources of raw material.

Developing Agro-Technologies for Different Agro-Climatic Regions:

For maximum yield, proper agro-technologies are essential. Research studies on standardizing nursery practices need to be further strengthened. There is an enormous waste and marginal land available and technologies for utilizing this effectively are required to be standardized for different potential crops to be grown in various ecosystems. Proper scientific data is essential for planting density, fertilization practices, planting procedure etc. Research for developing complete agro-technologies for potential crops for different agro-ecosystems needs to be disseminated to grass root level. Demonstrations should be laid out and pilot scale data should be collected. Complete technology packages should be prepared for adoption at grass root level. This area requires complete people's participation. CSMCRI Bhavnagar, NBRI Lucknow, NOVOD, leading universities and other R & D institutions should focus on this area.

Advantages of Bio-diesel:
  • Cleaner than diesel: Bio-diesel reduces emissions of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter.
  • Renewable: It is plant-based, therefore what is used can be re-grown.
  • Bio-diesel runs in any conventional, unmodified diesel engine.
  • Bio-diesel can be stored in conventional petroleum storage facilities.
  • All diesel fueling infrastructure including pumps, tanks, and transport trucks can use Bio-diesel without modifications.
  • Bio-diesel reduces carbon emissions by up to 100% because it is a renewable fuel.
  • Bio-diesel is less polluting than petroleum diesel.
  • Bio-diesel can be used alone or mixed in any amount with petroleum diesel fuel 20.
  • Bio-diesel is more lubricating than diesel fuel, so it increases the life of diesel engines.
  • Bio-diesel was successfully tested in automobile, aircraft and railway engines.
  • Bio-diesel is safe to handle because it is biodegradable and non-toxic.
  • Petroleum diesel fuel, which has a flash point of 75°C.
  • Pleasant exhaust smell: When burned, the fuel emits a fried food or barbecue aroma.
  • Bio-diesel fuel can also be used in combination with heating oil to heat residential and industrial buildings.
  • Bio-diesel easily decomposes biologically and in the case of accident, no harm is done to the soil or ground water.
  • Bio-diesel cuts down on targeted emissions.
  • Bio-diesel contains no benzole or other carcinogenic polyaromatic compounds.
  • Since Bio-diesel is oxygenated, diesel engines have complete combustion than when using petroleum fuel.

Bio-diesel and Rural Upliftment:

Secured self-reliant fuel:
India’s known crude oil reserve is estimated to last only for about 21 years. The international oil trade is subject to violent fluctuations and has often led to war-like situations in the past, especially involving supply from the Gulf countries. With insufficient oil resources, India cannot rely on imported oil, which will seriously affect its economic development and sovereignty in international political relations. Therefore, as a matter of necessity and national self-reliance, India has to strive to achieve self-sufficiency in fuel availability.

Increase in rural employment:
The production of bio-diesel can provide numerous local, regional and economic benefits. The production of tree seeds creates jobs for the local people in rural agricultural based areas. Because the market for transportation fuel is large, widespread use of bio-diesel increases demand for raw materials and increases income for farmers. Increased demand for feedstock also helps in reducing the amount of surplus crops and reduces the need for national farming subsidies.

Conversion of the raw material into fuel provides economic benefits through the construction and operation of processing facilities. These facilities provide local employment and development opportunities in the rural areas and can help the financial infrastructure of these areas. The processing of the non-edible oilseeds is done in simple oil mills, oil expellers and solvent extractors, which already exist in district, taluk and village levels. Many of them do not have sufficient work at present due to the liberalization of imports of edible oil such as palm oil and sunflower oil. By increasing the availability of non-edible bio-diesel oilseeds, which can be processed in the same machine without any modifications, rural employment also increases as these production facilities are on a small scale and are highly decentralized, unlike oil refineries and gas facilities.

Increasing rural income and women’s involvement:

Finding and developing new oil wells and natural gas requires huge investments and will primarily help the large-scale industry, which alone can undertake such ventures. However, development of bio-diesel from non-edible oilseeds from trees is completely decentralized and is largely located in rural areas. It increases the income of rural populations, as these trees have to be grown on land, both common and private and in a decentralized manner. Women’s self-help groups in an organized manner only can help rural women to a significant extent. The landless families and women's self-helf groups will be benefited by supplying oil-seed pods to oil mills.

Availability of organic manure:

After extracting the oil, as much as sixty percent of the non-edible oilseeds is in cake form and is used as organic fertilizer by the farmers. The oilcake is full of nitrogen and is therefore highly beneficial in enriching the soil for farming. As synthetic fertilizer is costly and environmentally harmful, the need for natural and organic fertilizer is obvious.

One such large source of organic fertilizer is the cake of the non-edible oilseeds after extracting about twenty to forty percent of the oil, depending upon the sophistication of the extraction process. As the oil extraction facilities require only small-scale investment and are spread in rural areas, the farmers will greatly benefit as they can fetch them without long-distance transport cost. In fact, in the absence of such oil cakes, many farmers crop the tree leaves at present for green manure to their fields, which stunt the tree growth and reduce tree cover.

Bio-diesel as renewable energy:

Being sourced from trees already existing and to be further propagated, bio-fuel is a source of renewable energy, unlike fossil fuel. It is an ecologically benign twice over fossil fuel in that, first, no carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere and second, it also sequesters carbon from the atmosphere through tree leaves. India is a signatory to the Kyoto protocol, and bio-fuel being an instrument of clean development mechanism, India can also profitably trade this carbon saving with developed countries through accruals of credits, apart from not emitting carbon into the atmosphere on its own.

Petroleum oil is depleting at a fast rate year after year and is bound to get exhausted in not-too-distant a future. Petroleum-based oil is always under threat of supply inabilities and cost escalations. This has led to a growing concern for petroleum oil throughout the world, more so in the petroleum importing countries like India. The oil prices have increased at an alarming rate and it might create a major crisis if its alternate sources are not evolved or exploited. Continued and increasing use of petroleum will intensify local air pollution and magnify the global warming problems caused by CO2. Present day concerns over the growing energy needs of a growing world population have shifted from limited fossil fuel supplies to climate change, air pollution, and inequity resulting from the lack of economic means to develop. Increased attention has been shown towards renewable energy only in the last decade with the hopes that locally generated fuel can increase local independence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and hopefully be cost competitive. India is a home to a billion people, about a sixth of the world human population.

Seventy-two percent of India’s people live in rural areas and about 70% earn their livelihood from agriculture. Agriculture food production system depends heavily on liquid fuels particularly diesel fuel. Although shortage in diesel fuel affects every sector of the economy, its effect on agriculture sector of the economy is quite severe. The disruption of diesel supply even for a few weeks can result in a substantial loss of food production for want of one or other critical operations like irrigation, sowing, harvesting etc. The ongoing economic expansion (GDP growth is currently about 5%) would increase the demand for transportation fuel in short and medium term at high rates. India’s developmental objectives base themselves on economic models that require a per capita consumption of fuel oil several fold higher than current Indian consumption levels the environmental problems that might crop up from such increased fuel consumption also need to be taken into account.

The increasing gap between demand and domestically produced petroleum is a matter of serious concern. In other words, our dependence on import of oil will increase in the foreseeable future. Hence a program for the development of energy from raw material, which grows in the rural areas, will go a long way in providing energy security to the rural people.

Macroeconomic effects:

An important factor that is not usually considered when calculating the costs and benefits of industrial feedstock materials is the macroeconomic effect associated with domestically produced, renewable energy sources. Economic benefits of a biodiesel industry in India would include value addition to the feedstock (for the non-edible oilseeds), an increased number of manufacturing jobs, an increased tax base, investments in plant and equipment, improvement of our trade balance, and reductions in healthcare costs due to improved air quality and greenhouse gas mitigation. Hence bio-diesel has a positive impact on the economy.

Feasibility of large quantity bio-diesel production:

India has large arable land as well as good climatic conditions (tropical) with adequate rainfall in large parts of the area to account 25 for large biomass production each year. Since edible oil demand is higher than its domestic production, there is no possibility of diverting this oil for production of bio-diesel. Fortunately there is a large chunk of degraded forest land and unutilized public land, field boundaries and fallow lands of farmers where nonedible oil-seeds can be grown. There are many tree species, which bear seeds rich in oil. Of these some promising tree species have been evaluated and it has been found that there are a number of them such as Jatropha curcas (Ratanjyot) and Pongamia Pinnata (‘Honge’ or ‘Karanja’), which would be very suitable in our conditions. However, Jatropha curcas (Ratanjyot) has been found most suitable for the purpose. It will use lands, which are largely unproductive for the time being, and are located in poverty-stricken areas and in degraded forests. It can also be planted on field boundaries and fallow lands as well as in public lands such as along the railways, roads and irrigation canals.

Challenges for bio-diesel:

As a new fuel in the competitive fuel market place, bio-diesel has performed admirably well in the United States and other developed countries. Consumer recognition, scientific expertise, and technical development within the industry have grown by leaps and bounds over the last five years, with the progress clearly visible. The fuel has been used in a variety of engines and conditions, and the result has been overwhelmingly positive. Despite this remarkable progress in the western countries, bio-diesel has not yet become popular and the fuel is not in wide commercial use and production in India.