Biofuels have been presented as promising alternative fuels for the past two decades now. Biodiesel has been particularly highlighted as the most promising sustainable fuel for India since our countryside has an abundance of oil-seed bearing trees. However, despite the much-hyped promise, Biodiesel and other biofuels have come nowhere near becoming mainstream energy sources till now.
Thankfully, some heartwarming news has emerged from Karnataka with various public and private companies beginning to use Biodiesel since a steady supply of oil is available now. There are two major initiatives that have spearheaded the Biodiesel movement in India. Karnataka State Bio Fuel Development Board has set up various demonstration centers for Biodiesel and collection points for oilseeds. Similarly, Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) has begun running public transport buses on 100% biodiesel!
To get an update, I met with Chethan S G and Dr.Shreepathi L K at the Shimoga District Biofuels Information & Demonstration Centre located inside the Jawaharlal Nehru National College of Engineering (JNNCE) campus. In 2009, Karnataka became the first state in India to implement a policy on biofuels named “Karnataka Bioenergy Policy”. The Karnataka State Biofuel Development Board (KSBDB) was established to promote the cultivation of biofuel crops and oilseed trees, collection of seeds and demonstration of biodiesel production. After the large biofuel park was set up in Hassan, its success was replicated in various demonstration centers at the district level.
Today, these demonstration centers have become the hubs of activity for collecting seeds and selling processed biodiesel to large buyers. The whole process is being managed in a public-private partnership model, where government agencies help in building infrastructure, local voluntary organizations help in raising awareness and collecting seeds, while private companies are the end-users. The unit in Shivamogga run by Chirantana Green Technology Centre of JNNCE is an ideal model for replication in other places.
Chethan describes the daily activities of these biofuel demonstration centers:
- Farmers associated with the district milk cooperative collect oilseeds in remote villages. These seeds are collected at the milk collection centers and are then brought to the city’s dairy plant, which is then transported to the KSBDB demonstration center.
- Pongamia and neem (Honge) are the dominant oilseeds available in central Karnataka. Around 15 tons of these oil seeds are collected in the Shimoga district, which are typically seeds are collected between March and May.
- Oil is extracted from expeller machines at the center and then fed into the biodiesel extraction machine. A chemical reaction called trans-esterification takes place between the oil, caustic soda and methanol to produce ‘methyl ester’, which is biodiesel.
- Biodiesel is then sold to regular buyers such as private companies with large diesel gen-sets and fleets of vehicles. The process produces three byproducts that are sold separately –
o Oilseed cakes to be sold to farmers as bio-fertilizers
o Glycerol to be sold to soap industries
o Herbal disinfectant to be sold to phenyl producers
Supply chain issues hamper Biodiesel Movement in India
While there is a rising nascent demand for biodiesel, there is very little supply of this indigenous fuel in India. Fortunately, things are looking brighter on the supply side with small village cooperatives and large companies providing a steady supply. Chethan stated that KSBDB has encouraged the Karnataka forest department to replace paper pulp trees such as Acacia and eucalyptus with oilseed trees such as pongamia, neem, mahua etc in social forestry programs.
After planting trees over the past decade, non-edible oilseeds are now abundant available across Karnataka. Around 415 tons of oilseeds were collected from farmers and 28,300 liters of biodiesel were produced in 2015. The Shimoga unit alone produced 1,374 liters of biodiesel from 9,768kgs of oilseeds. Biodiesel is being sold in the market at INR50 per liter, offering a margin of INR6 over the conventional diesel. Therefore many buyers are coming forward to purchase it from these biofuel demonstration centers. Further, there are companies like Malnad Extraction Industries that manufacture biodiesel production units.
KSBDB has ensured that supply of biodiesel is not affected by the seasonal availability of oilseeds. So instead of relying only on Pongamia or Jatropha, a range of oilseed trees have been identified:
|Yielding age (years)||5-6||5-6||5||10||3|
|Yield of seeds (kg)||15-40||10-25||10-25||10-40||1-2|
|Seed cost (INR)||16-18||12||13-14||10||10|
|Other uses||Bio-fertilizer, veterinary soap||Edible oil, oil cake manure||Bio-pesticide, soap, medicine||Cake manure, country liquor||Oil cake manure|
Engine safety and Biodiesel
The biggest concern about using any kind of biofuels such as ethanol or Biodiesel is the potential harm caused to engines. Many experts are concerned if moisture, residue or oil viscosity of Biodiesel could cause any harm to engine safety and durability. Chethan says researchers have studied engine safety in detail and found that blends of up to 50% Biodiesel cause no harm to any diesel engine. Chirantana Green Technology Centre conducted an endurance test of 100 hours of continuous running of 10hp water pump in JNNCE and found no mechanical problems.
Similarly, KSRTC has been running public transport buses since 2004 and has an existing fleet of 675 bio-diesel vehicles running on 20% Biodiesel blend with petro-diesel. KSRTC is reckoned to be the country’s first urban transport corporation to make use of the ethanol-diesel blend and biodiesel to run its buses. It started experimenting with the ethanol-diesel blend in 2005. In fact, the corporation won the Golden Peacock Eco-Innovation Award in 2010 for introducing this new idea of blending ethanol with diesel. Now, KSRTC is in talks with Hyderabad-based Advait Bio Fuel to jointly establish a bio-diesel production facility in the state, potentially becoming the first transport utility in the country to produce its own fuel. Hopefully, these efforts by government agencies in Karnataka will help build the Biodiesel movement in India.