Monday, September 22, 2008

India Still Aims to Produce 20% of Its Diesel from Bio-fuels By the Year 2017

India's climate can support a large number of tropical oilseed crops that do not grow well in colder climates. The country is proceeding with ambitious plans to produce large portions of its liquid fuels from oilseeds within the next ten years. Jatropha is a main contender, but a number of other tropical oilseed plants are also being studied.
...jatropha oil is not the only source of biodiesel. The shrub has a more elegant rival in pongamia pinnata, or Indian birch, a silvery tree revered for its shady canopy and medicinal properties. Its crescent-shaped pods also contain seeds which can yield about 30% of their weight in oil, according to Roshini International Bio Energy, a firm based in Hyderabad. It has joined hands with the Andhra Pradesh government to plant the trees in three of Andhra Pradesh’s 23 districts. It is also venturing into neighbouring states and to Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Uganda. The goal, says Anil Reddy, Roshini’s founder, is “to plant 1 billion trees on this planet”, covering an area half the size of Denmark.

India’s enthusiasm for biofuel may seem odd only months after the country’s finance minister described conversion of food crops into biofuel as “a crime against humanity.” But D1-BP and Roshini point out that their favoured crops need not compete with food crops for land or water. Both are hardy plants that can grow on dry, stony soil. S.K. Kothari, Roshini’s technical director, says 150 acres of pongamia requires only as much water as a single acre of traditional crops.... _Economist
These crops require a lot of care in their early growth, and do not produce high yields until between 5 and 10 years of growth after planting. Farmers need to be patient.

But both jatropha and pongamia provide benefits beyond the oilseed. Farmers will need to learn to integrate the oilseed crops into an integrated system of multiple synergistic crops, and not rely on monoculture farming. If local farmers are unable to provide the necessary self-discipline to grow these crops, it is quite likely that large financial interests such as national and multi-national energy corps, will move in on the best land to grow the much needed alternative to petroleum.

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