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Satish Lele

My Views about BioDiesel / Jatropha

The current popular raw materials for BioDiesel manufacture : In US, BioDiesel is produced from Soy Oil. In Europe it is manufactured from Rape Seed Oil. Edible oils like soy, rape seed are crops, that can be grown in American and European countries in summer months. Farming is mechanized which reduces labor costs. These are grown for the meal as cattle feed and oil is not the main reason to grow these. Hence initially plants were based on these oils to dispose off the excess oil, but now most of the oil is committed. Waste edible oils, tallow, yellow greases are other raw materials. The current production of Soy and Rape Seed Oil is already committed and there is not much scope to increase its production for new BioDiesel Plants, as scope for farming of these two crops is limited, as it requires fertile soil. Jatropha / Karanj / Neem / Mahua / Simarouba are the trees which can provide oil bearing seeds, but these can not be grown in US or Europe, as it can not tolerate frost and the plantation and harvesting of these is highly labour intensive.

Why demand for Jatropha oil is so high from US and Europe : USA and Europe are by far the largest producers of BioDiesel in the world and more plants are under implementation. Since USA and Europe have to comply with new Climate Change treaties, they need a lot of Green Fuel in next few years. Palm oil has high cloud point / pour point and hence not suitable in freezing weather. Since properties of Jatropha oil are good as far as its cloud point / pour point are concerned, it is raw material of choice of BioDiesel manufacturers. Jatropha oil is non edible and can be grown on non fertile lands. Jatropha requires a lot of cheap labour, hence it is not viable in US and Europe. Currently no plant runs on Jatropha oil. However, in US, there is larger activity in corn ethanol, compared to BioDiesel.

Problems of Non Edible Oils : These are predominantly produced from Jatropha, Castor, Pongamia etc. The plantation of these is labor intensive and can be grown in tropical countries. It is suitable for poorer countries for rural employment and oil for rural lighting. Most of these countries are over populated, and do not have enough food grain production to feed people. The countries that have large tracts of land are offering these lands on lease, but the lessees are looking for investors, for last few years, as the investment in some of these countries is not considered to be safe. The seeds of Jatropha, Castor, Pongamia are available only once in year. Moreover these oils are less stable and become rancid (develop free fatty acids), which makes these less attractive for BioDiesel. Manufacture of BioDiesel from these oils will take a few years, as these plants are being promoted now, but plants take 5 to 7 years to mature fully. Most of the oil produced from these will be used locally.

Used Frying Oil and Tallow : It is a good source of oil. These oils can not be put to sewer after using these for certain number of hours and need to be disposed off. These can be ideally used as transport fuel but these need to be purified before these can be used as transport fuel. Converting these oils to BioDiesel is best way to purify these, as manufacture of BioDiesel from used oils, removes all the impurities of oil. Used Frying Oil and Tallow is the best source for BioDiesel as it is available on daily basis, through out the year. But getting these oils requires a dedicated effort to collect these from hotel chains. Before setting up a biodiesel plant, you need to set up the collection chain so that raw material is assured. You can have contracts with luxury cruz liners, which have lot of oil to dispose off. When they dock in ports, the used oil is offloaded. The used oil does have lot of impurities but these can be purified before using it in BioDiesel plant, by use of some earths like Magnesium Silicate. Magnesium silicate is mixed with used oil, heated to 170oF, and agitated for 1 hour. It adsorbs much of impurities and free fatty acids, so that it is much easier to use, in BioDiesel manufacturing plant. These used oils have very little value, and transporting these to other areas or other countries is expensive affair. Hence these should be ultimately disposed of locally. If you secure your own source of raw material oil, you can succeed.

Process for manufacture of BioDiesel from Jatropha Oil : The acid / base process is better suited for jatropha oil, as jatropha oil decomposes on storage and produces a lot of free fatty acids. Used frying oils can also be used as raw material by this process.

Why BioDiesel Manufacturers are keen on Jatropha oil supply from India? : In India, plantations are going on in slow but steady pace of 50,000 acres per year, and it is good achievement, considering acute shortage of finance. So far the cumulative plantation is expected to be about 500,000 to 600,000 acres. Foreign direct investment is not allowed in this sector. Land is held by small farmers, and land can not be sold to foreign companies. The contract farming model was adopted by some plantation companies in India. It has failed as the price offered by them (Rs. 5 to 6 / kg of seeds), is less than half that of reasonable price (Rs. 10 to 12 / kg of seeds). Most of the plantation companies sold their operations to other bigger companies, which are aggressive in contract farming, but they are incurring huge losses. In India, most of the Jatropha oil is used for manufacture of Soap, in Electricity Generating sets (of 1 Mega Watt to 5 mega Watt) and as Lamp Oil (Demand for this is about 25 million tons). Soap manufacturers were using Palm Oil in past, but now the palm oil prices are very volatile, and not viable for making soap. Currently, there are more than 10 BioDiesel Manufacturing units in India, with a combined capacity of 1,500 tons per day. Most of them are operating at low capacities, (and not likely to opearate at full capacity, for next 2 to 5 years) as they do not get oil at affordable price.

How much oil you require? : To set up a biodiesel plant, you should have your own Jatropha plantation, as oil is currently not easily available. To set up 1,000 liters per day plant, you need a Jatropha plantation in 200 hectares (2 square kilometers). Once you have a source of oil, you can set up a BioDiesel plant. Such a large patch of land is not available in India as one piece. Hence the plants have to collect seeds from a number of farmers. Logistics of seed collection is challenging. You get seeds only once a year. These will have to be stored for operation through out the year. This requires huge working capital which is beyond capacity of small plants. In India oil is also used for Lighting and that is more pressing use for rural Indians. Even though Jatropha plantations are being set up on small land holding in India, practically no oil will be available for BioDiesel manufacture.

Logistical Nightmares of BioDiesel Plants : BioDiesel can be manufactured in small plant of 1,000 liters per day to large plants of 100,000 liters per day or more.

  1. 1,000 liters per day: The plant will need 3 to 4 tons of seeds every day. It should get a truckload of seeds every three days, in harvesting season. For other period, a storage of at least 4 months will be required. 4,800 tons of seeds will have to be stored for plant of this size. This will require a closed godown of 4,000 square meters and finance of Rupees 48 million (US$ 1 million). Arrangements should be made for handling, storage and disposal of oil cake. This will require a closed godown of 1,000 square meters.
    Plant of this size will have no problems in procuring other raw materials, such as Methanol and Caustic Potash, but if bought in smaller volumes, these will be expensive.

  2. 100,000 liters per day : The plant will need 300 to 400 tons of seeds every day. It should get 30 to 40 truckloads of seeds every day, in harvesting season. For other period, a storage of at least 4 months will be required. 480,000 tons of seeds will have to be stored for plant of this size. This will require a closed godown of 400,000 square meters and finance of Rupees 4.8 billion (US$ 100 million). Arrangements should be done for handling, storage and disposal of oil cake. This will require a closed godown of 1,00,000 square meters.
    Plant of this size will have some problems in procuring other raw materials, such as Methanol and Caustic Potash. 5 to 6 truckloads of methanol and 1 truckload of Caustic Potash will have to be procured and handled per day.

Nursery Operation : Normally people buy seeds and raise their own nursery on soil bed or in plastic bags. Plant is grown carefully in nursery and then after hardening for 3 months, it is planted in land where plantation is put up. If these are grown in soil, these plants are just uprooted from soil and sent as bundles of 20. Saplings in plastic bags are expensive and have higher transport cost. The bare root saplings, can survive without soil (in transport) for one week. Some people prefer to buy saplings as they do not have expertise to develop a good nursery.

What type of yield per plant could you expect for each year 1 to 5? : The plantation is done in 3 meters x 2 meters rows, to get maximum sunlight for plants. In this case there are 1,600 plants per hectare. The plants start flowering and fruiting in next season. (In India if you plant in June-July, you can get flowers in November and Fruits by December). The number of fruits depend on number of branches. As tree grows, it has more branches and hence more fruits and seeds. A mature plant (5 years old) can have 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) of seeds in a harvest and there can be 2 harvests, if it is irrigated in hot season. After one year it will produce 400 grams (0.8 lb) of seeds and after 3 years it will produce 750 grams (1.5 lb) per tree. The oil content is same through out, only the number of seeds vary. The yield remains steady after that period.

Uses of Oil in India : Most of the Jatropha oil currently produced in India, is used as BioKerosene (substitute for Kerosine for use in Lamps), as fuel additive and for manufacture of Soap. Not much oil is available for manufacture of BioDiesel or for exports. Musturd (Rapeseed) is a major oil seed crop in India, grown on 13% of cropped land. Musturd oil is an Edible Oil in India. Exports of all Edible Oils (including Musturd / Rapeseed Oil) from India are banned.

Blending oil in Diesel : When 5% Jatropha oil is mixed with Petroleum Diesel, the viscosity increases by 2% and mixing is good. Hence it can be used as oil to mix with diesel. In India, Diesel is often adulterated with Naphtha and Kerosine. This decreases the density of Diesel. Oil companies conduct surprise checks on quality of Diesel. Density is the criteria for check. When this adulterated Diesel is further adulterated with Jatropha / Pongamia oil, it corrects the density, and it passes quality. 5% palm oil is blended in Malaysia.

Carbon Credits : The methodology of Carbon Credits for Jatropha Plantation is not yet approved. You can get it on plants which are more than 5 meters tall. Hence it not clear whether you can get it on Jatropha plantation. However, a number of factors (energy used to get the energy) need to be subtracted, and these can vary. These depend on fuels for farming, transportation, extraction of oil etc. 2.5 tons of CO2 is absorbed per year, per hectare for growth of tree. CO2 absorbed by oil, which replaces fossil fuels, is eligible for Carbon Credit. Carbon Emission Reduction Certificate Prices vary in US and in Europe. It is traded at Chicago Mercantile Exchange. You can get latest price from these exchanges.

Corporate Strategy Suggested for Big Indian Companies : Many Big Companies have their grass root plants in rural areas. They have a big fleet of Vehicles, and they consume large quantities of Diesel Oil for their Diesel Engine Vehicles and Diesel (Electric) Generating Sets. These companies also have many activities for Rural Development. They can combine Rural Development Activity to get Oil for their captive use. Here is a suggestion.

  1. They should Start buying oils of Karanj, Mahua, Sal and Neem from local people around their unit and from Adivasis staying in Forests. Local NGOs and Self Help Groups should be encouraged for the same. Since seeds of these plants are not much used for plantation, the prices of these seeds are reasonable. If these seeds are crushed outside factory gate and oil extracted from it bought at Rs. 50 per liter (considering sale price of seed cake), this will develop a supply chain. This then can be expanded to district level and then to state level.

  2. The seed cake is more valuable than oil. BioGas can be produced from it, and it can be used as fuel in factory. Almost 50% of the weight of seed cake is converted into BioGas, which is a clean fuel.

  3. The fermented seed cake can be sold to local people for conversion into Bio Fertilizer. Bio Fertilizers will be most sought after soil nutrients in future.

  4. There are many BioDiesel producers in the country, which are facing shortage of raw material. These can convert the Company's oil into BioDiesel, and give BioDiesel back to the company, on contract basis. Conversion cost for a small scale BioDiesel plant is around Rs. 7 per liter. Hence it will be cheaper than Petroleum Diesel.

  5. Since it is used captively by the company, it need not be sold at un-remunerative price to oil companies.

  6. This will start like a movement (similar to Milk revolution by Amul and NDDB) and will spread rapidly.

  7. It is a win-win situation for all.

  8. If the company has to offer a price that is more than Rs. 50 per liter of oil, the extra expenses incurred will not exceed even 1% of the entire fuel bill of the company.

Some companies have shown interest in this model for further action. Your views and suggestion on this model are appreciated.
When is the harvest and how to harvest (commercially)? : We get first harvest in first year but have to wait for 3 to 5 years to get ultimate quantity of seeds. The gross yield for the harvest of first year, will be 200 kgs of seeds per hectare, harvest of second year will be 700 kgs of seeds, harvest of third year will be 2,000 kgs of seeds, harvest of fourth year will be 2,500 kgs of seeds. The plantation keep on producing for 35 to 50 years.

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