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Bio Fuel as an Alternative fuel - An analysis...

22 September 2012, 07:17 PM

Bio Fuels as Alternative fuels-An analysis

The progress of any nation depends on the development of transportation facility. We all know the importance of petrol and diesel fuels. India is the chief importer of petroleum fuels from gulf countries.

According to the statistics, only 20 percent of fuels that are used in India are extracted in India. Everything else is imported. There is direct implication of changes of fuel price in gulf countries on the economy of India. The increase in price of all fuels leads to increase in transportation costs and the same is reflected in commodity prices ranging from simple coffee to Flight tickets. The fast depletion of resources is alarming for the nation forcing engineers and scientist to work on alternative fuel.

Using battery operated cars like Mahindra Reva etc are a good development in this regard. However it has the drawback of being of too costly and limited mileage. The present situation compels us to derive and work on alternate sources of fuel to fossil fuels.

Earlier we had published an article on Alcohol as an alternative fuel. In this article we shall focus on the developments in Bio fuel production in India.

Jetropha as Green fuel

The oil extracted from seeds of plants like Jetropha curcas and processed into bio-diesel could be blended with petroleum diesel. Jetropha curcas is a quick maturing plant species that starts bearing fruits within a year of its planting and following the extraction and trans-esterification the oil can be blended with petroleum diesel for use. It grows in a wide variety of agro-climatic conditions from arid (200 mm of rainfall) to high rainfall areas and on lands with thin soil cover to good lands.

It is not browsed by cattle and so its plantation can be easily under-taken in fields and their boundaries, under-stocked forests, public lands and denuded lands facing increasing degradation.

Its plantation, seed collection, oil extraction etc. will create employment opportunities for a large number of people, particularly the tribal and the poor, and will help rehabilitate unproductive and wastelands and save precious foreign exchange by substituting imported crude. The chemical analysis of Jetropha oil reveals that its acid value is 38.20, saponification is 195.20 Viscosity is 31. It's comparison with Diesel is as follows;

  Jetropha Oil Diesel
Specific Gravity 0.9186 0.82 -0.84
Flash Point 1100C 500C
Carbon Residue 0.06% Less than 0.12%
Carbon Residue
Calorific Value 9.470K Cal/Kg 10.170K Cal/Kg
Cetane Value 51 50

Based on the above-mentioned chemical analysis data, Jetropha oil is one of the most suitable clean fuels. Other sources of clean fuels are Tung, Mahua, Poongamia-Pinnatta, rubber etc. The gestation period of these plants are higher than Jetropha ultimately making them non viable. Due to these facts, major emphasis has been given to Jetropha cultivation as a major source of clean fuel. Its higher flash point helps for its easier transportation while no traces of CO and minimum traces of CO2 make it 100% eco-friendly fuel.

Jetropha curcas -Source of Bio-diesel

There are many tree species which bear rich oil. Of these some promising tree species have been evaluated and it has been found that there are a number of them such as Jetropha curcas and Pongamia Pinnata (‘Honge’ or ‘Karanja’) which would be very suitable in our conditions. However Jetropha curcas has been found to be the most suitable tree species for the reasons as below.

1) It can be grown even in adverse land situations viz. degraded and barren land under forest and non-forest use, dry and drought prone areas, marginal lands and as agro-forestry crop. It can be planted on fallow lands and long farmers field boundaries as hedge because it does not grow too tall as well as on vacant fields alongside railways, highways, irrigation canals and unused lands in townships etc. The seeds of Jetropha are available during non-rainy seasons, which facilitate better collection and processing. The cost of plantation is largely incurred in the first year and improved planting material can make a huge difference in yield.

2) It has multiple uses and after the extraction of oil from seeds, the oil cake left behind is excellent organic manure, the bio mass of Jetropha curcas enriches the soil.

3) Jetropha adds to capital stock of the farmers and community, for sustainable generation of income and employment.

Interview :

Extracts from Interview with an eminent personality in State Bio Fuel Development Board justifies how Bio Fuel is the need of the day.

Question: Does the project of Bio fuel production have enough potential to meet growing requirements of the nation?

Answer: Yes for sure. India is currently importing 70 to 80 Million tons of raw petroleum. The demand is there for up to 130 Million Tons. Out of the total area of India which is 380 Million Hectares around 180-190 Million Hectares is being used for agriculture. The remaining 200 Million hectares is being used for non agricultural activity. Even if we make use of half the land i.e. 100 Million Hectares for bio fuel plantations then we can get around 100Million Tons of oil at the rate of one tone per Hectare.

Question: How is it possible to carry out such projects?

Answer: Considering resources available in rural areas, we can generate employment by encouraging the people to grow bio fuel plants. It’s like encouraging people for dairy products by giving subsidy.

Question: The projects seem to be rural centered. Would it be useful to city people?

Answer: The facility for production of Bio fuels is available in rural areas only. For producing Ethanol we need to grow Sugarcane. All agricultural lands belong to farmers only even the related industries like pesticides, fertilizers, bio gas etc are also for rural areas only. The bio fuels could first be used to satisfy needs of rural areas and later on can be tried for urban areas.

Limitations of Bio fuels

Though it looks very simple in mentioning Bio fuels as best alternative fuels, it has many limitations to overcome some of them could be mentioned as below:

1) In general, even a slight mix of other oil with diesel will lead to improper combustion .The whole engine would have to be overhauled depending upon severity of problem. However with suitable modifications, it is possible to run the engine. The proper blending of bio fuel with diesel is a complicated issue and needs lots of efforts.

2) The huge area of land required, water supply to such land etc leads to multiple of problems like land acquisition, water supply projects etc which needs thousands of crores of investment.

3) Though it is being implemented for some of the state govt. run buses, it is yet to be made successful for regular usage of all vehicles.


Bio fuel projects are one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by almost all state governments. There is a definite indication that the demand for bio fuels will only increase in the near future. The main point is about the extent of success of bio fuels as successful alternative fuels i.e. availability of appropriate technology to use it efficiently and growing plants in large scale to meet the demand. Overall, the current situation demands all the relevant people to work collectively in coming up with one or more methods of overcoming the scarcity of availability of petroleum products.
The main intention of the article is to provide an insight on the current scenario with respect to bio fuels as alternative fuels and in particular about Jetropha seeds as fuel. The information about Jetropha is available in almost all state bio fuel project websites. As these are all public projects, there is need for people to talk more about pros and cons of each plant/seed as a possible bio fuel.

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