India aims to replace 20% of the country’s diesel requirement with biodiesel in accordance with the National Biodiesel Mission (NBM) by 2018. The government had aimed to create this categorical mix in 2012, but could not do so. While the government had carried out a demonstration between 2002-2009 aimed at cultivating 400,000 hectares of Jatropha plant expected to yield about 3.75 tons of oilseed per hectare annually, it could not take the project further. But, it now plans to set up a large trans-esterification plant—the main process of extraction from Jatropha—to complete what it started in 2002.
Jatropha curcas, is a drought-resistant plant essential for production of biodiesel. While Jatropha— found to be growing in many parts of the country with minimum inputs—was originally used to treat diseases like cancer, piles, snakebite, paralysis, dropsy, it was only recently that scientists found another use for the plant. It could produce seeds with an oil content of 37%. Moreover, the annual nut yield ranges from 0.5 to 12 tons. And, depending on soil quality and rainfall, oil can be extracted from the jatropha nuts after two to five years. This by-product, which burns with clear smoke-free flame, was tested successfully as fuel as it could be combusted without being refined.
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While top global players, viz, BDT Biodiesel Technologies, Austria, Biosource Fuels, LLC, US, Biox Corpn Canada and Ballestra, Italy are already developing this, recently, Indian Oil Corporation dedicated a diesel storage tank blended with biodiesel in Korukkupet Terminal.
Even Mercedes tested the fuel way back in 2004 on its C Class sedan, which completed a test run with B100 that is 100% biodiesel with zero-blending for a distance covering about 5,800 kms without a breakdown. The fuel consumption of the vehicle was similar to that of petrol variants, with a mileage of 13.5 km to a litre in the city limits and about 15 km on highways.
India is a little late in joining the bandwagon, but the present government seems to be inclined to meet the Paris targets, mandating an increased use of biofuels. In fact, roads, transport and highways minister, Nitin Gadkari said that it would be his ministry’s initiative to promote such bio-fuel and these will be encouraged in use of highways building machinery and equipment. The government has already prescribed bio-fuel blending with normal diesel. The minister also announced 100 buses that will run on cent per cent ethanol and another 100 would run on bio-CNG.
“We are in the process of converting Haldia port as the country’s first major green port. Railway engines, trucks and other vehicles there are being run on bio-diesel made at the port,” he further added. Bulks of the shipment of biodiesel is being exported from Vizag port with Cleancities of Hyderabad contributing to a great extent.
However, the country needs to spearhead and upgrade from the present scenario of B5 (5% blending of Biodiesel) to B20. This needs to be done for ethanol as well. High ethanol prices and low availability has compelled the government to amend its 5% blending target. To encourage investment it needs to provide sops like tax incentives and excise cuts. For instance, Maharashtra offers waiver to the tune of $0.48 per gallon of permit fee, 4% sales tax, 10% surcharge on sales tax.
India has about 125 ethanol producers with a total capacity of 1.4 billion litres of ethanol. Most of it is found in sugarcane growing regions of the country. Recently, HPCL had firmed up plans to start work in three ethanol bio-refineries in Punjab. But pricing of sugarcane is the key for their functioning. More than the incentives what the sector would need is a robust infrastructure, which can only be brought about by increased private sector intervention.
The author, Subrata Ray is chief project coordinator (Renewables and Natural Gas), RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group Kolkata, India. Views are personal