Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Promising Indian Oil Seed Tree

Pongamia pinnata is an Indian oilseed tree with some interesting characteristics.
“Pongamia can grow on marginal land, waste land not suitable for other crop production,” Mr Gould said. “It’s a sustainable biofuel that does not compete with food crops and enhances rather than detracts from biodiversity.”

Pongamia is a perennial tree whose seed pods are harvested and crushed for the oil, which can then be refined for feedstock for biodiesel. Mr Gould said pongamia can grow in a wide variety of environments, including arid areas and also in estuaries. __CheckBiotech
Pongamia is also a nitrogen fixer, growing without fertilizers. Oil yields are comparable to Jatropha, when planted in plantations.

Some typical yields in US gallons of biodiesel per acre are:

* Algae: 1800 gpa or more (est.- see soy figures and DOE quote below)
* Palm oil: 508 gpa[38]
* Coconut: 230 gpa[38]
* Rapeseed: 102 gpa[38]
* Soy: 59.2-98.6 gpa in Indiana[39] (Soy is used in 80% of USA biodiesel[40])
* Peanut: 90 gpa[38]
* Sunflower: 82 gpa[38]

Algae fuel yields have not yet been accurately determined, but DOE is reported as saying that algae yield 30 times more energy per acre than land crops such as soybeans.[41], and some estimate even higher yields up to 15000 gpa .[42]

The Jatropha plant has been cited as a high-yield source of biodiesel but such claims have also been exaggerated. The more realistic estimates put the yield at about 200 gpa (1.5-2 tonnes per hectare).[43] It is grown in the Philippines, Mali and India, is drought-resistant, and can share space with other cash crops such as coffee, sugar, fruits and vegetables.[44] __WikiBiodiesel
Pongamia yields approximately 2.5 tonnes per hectare, slightly more than Jatropha. Both Jatropha and Pongamia achieve far better oil yields than soy, rape, and maize. Pongamia may be slightly more frost-tolerant than Jatropha, although both shrubs require a tropical or semi-tropical growing environment.

While Europe and North America will not be able to grow Pongamia or Jatropha on a large scale, the poorer regions in the tropical and semi-tropical South should benefit greatly from both the local use of these oilseed trees for energy and for the ability to export the crop for cash. Already, a large jatropha burning energy plant is being built in Belgium, which will need a steady supply of jatropha seed from the tropics.

Of course, greenhouse farming of the tropical oilseed trees is possible in colder climates, but that will be more expensive than importing the seeds from the tropics, as a general rule.

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