Jatropha Feeds Indian Biodiesel Industry5 October 2009
India's government is putting its support behind the cultivation of jatropha as a biodiesel feedstock. GlobalData reports on how this may help the nation to meet its growing demand for energy.
India's growing energy needs have created a demand gap between production and consumption that the country's oil reserves are no longer expected to fill. As a result, the country's government has been forced to consider biodiesel as an alternative fuel, and in particular, jatropha, which in oil form is a light hydrocarbon.
This non-edible oil has been identified as a best possible source, largely because the plant is grown across the country and requires little maintenance. It grows readily from plant cuttings or seeds in arid zones and regions with a heavy rainfall, and is a quick-yielding species, even in adverse conditions such as on marginal lands or in alkaline soils.
Jatropha is also a good material for eco-restoration in all types of wasteland, which total 55 million hectares throughout the country.
It is also highly pest and disease resistant, and has a high yield of 40% oil, making it very cost-effective – the price per barrel of fuel produced by jatropha is currently $43, which is much lower than alternatives such as corn, soybean and cellulose.
The Indian government is now taking various measures to promote the plant's cultivation and a number of state governments have supported its growth by forming strategic partnerships with biodiesel producers and cultivators.
These initiatives are aimed at helping India increase its biodiesel production and reach its blending target of 20% by 2017, up from the current 5%.
The role of the Indian Government has become critical in shaping the future of the Indian biodiesel industry, and in 2005 the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) launched the biodiesel purchase policy to ensure that biodiesel manufacturers set a stable purchase price for the commodity. The government also announced a national mission on biodiesel comprising six smaller schemes covering various aspects such as plantation, procurement of seed, extraction of oil, blending and trade as well as research and development, although there have been reports that the government may be reconsidering its commitment to the project.
Many states are doing their utmost to enhance cultivation in their region. Chhattisgarh has implemented a well developed jatropha biodiesel programme and has given farmers jatropha seedlings equating to 150,000ha of crop. It has also provided 80 oil presses to various village governing bodies with guarantees to buy back jatropha seeds at 6.5 rupees/kg.
The state of Andhra Pradesh has set up a separate department to oversee the cultivation of jatropha and other plants that are sources of biofuel on 728,000ha of wasteland, while the Orissa government has started a policy to encourage plantation of jatropha and karanja in two million hectares of 'degraded' land.
Many companies are initiating memorandum of understandings with state governments to establish jatropha plantations on government wasteland or with small and medium farmers. The Indian Oil Corporation has formed a joint venture with the government of Chattisgarh for jatropha plantation across 36,000ha, while Hindustan Petroleum Corporation is also planning a joint venture with the Maharashtra State Farming Corporation, a division of the government of Maharashtra, for a jatropha biodiesel venture.
It is estimated that by the year 2011 nearly 17.2 million people will be employed by the jatropha biodiesel production industry in India, with 13 million in plantation, 3.9 million in maintenance and 300,000 in operations.
But despite the plant's natural attributes, national and local government support and its benefits for the Indian economy, there remains a concern over crop yields when jatropha is grown on wastelands. Some studies have found it to be much lower than expected, casting a slight shadow on developments so far. But more research is being carried out on the issue and until any negative conclusions are reached, jatropha continues to be considered a viable solution to the problem of plugging India's energy gap.
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