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Nature has it all. Whether it is food, fibre, fuel or a drug formulation, Nature has an answer to all our needs. It is only the judicious use of the myriad gifts of Nature that is important for our sustenance and well-being. Alas! it does not always happen. Take, for example the Earth’s rich reserves of petroleum: a product of ancient biomass transformed, over geological time, under high temperature and pressure.
The increasing use of these fossil fuels the world over today grimly reminds us of the fact that the finite reserves of such fuels may exhaust sooner than later. Besides, oil extraction and refining procedures are costly. Reflected in the rising price of petrol and diesel, the challenge of excessive demand of these fuels over their limited supply has today severely hit the country’s economy.
The solution to the challenge of depleting natural reserves of oil has come from Nature again. Thanks to the naturally gifted crop, Jatropha curcas, which is today well recognized as the source for producing biofuel that is significantly cheaper than crude oil.
The prime ingredient in the manufacture of biodiesel is vegetable oil like sunflower, soya or peanut oil. But as these oils are edible and expensive, they are not used for bio-diesel production. On the other hand, Jatropha produces oil-rich seeds from which oil can be easily extracted and processed for producing bio-diesel. The seeds contain about 30-35% of oil. Amazingly, Jatropha may yield more than four times as much fuel per hectare as soybean and more than ten times than that produced by maize. Moreover, as Jatropha contains several toxic compounds, such as lectin, saponin, carcinogenic phorbol, and a trypsin inhibitor, its untreated seeds are not fit for human consumption. As Jatropha oil burns with a clear smokeless flame, it can also be used as a kerosene substitute.
Indian research Institutes through the support of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Department of Biotechnolgy (DBT), MNRE, ICAR and DST had followed a holisitic research approach for development of best culitvation practices to genetic engineering for maneuvering exhisting Jaropha species for making it more sustainable crop for biofuel production. CSIR-Central Salt & marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI), Bhavnagar has worked on Jatropha curcas for the past one and half decades, wherein, the activities pursued involved development of agro-technologies for cultivation of Jatropha on marginal lands to successfully running unmodified diesel engine vehicles using the biodiesel prepared from Jatropha oil.
The processed oil from Jatropha seeds can be used in compression-ignition (diesel) engines. It can also be blended with conventional diesel to avoid the need for engine modification. The process of converting vegetable oil into biodiesel fuel is called ‘transesterification’. In the past, CSIR-CSMCRI licensed the biodiesel technology knowhow to DRDO, Govt of India and RSMML, Udaipur. As early as 2007, the CSIR-CSMCRI neat Jatropha methyl ester (biodiesel) was evaluated by Austrian Biofuels Institute as part of an EU project against other biodiesels and it gave the best engine performance.
The Jatropha cake forms a major byproduct after biodiesel extraction which can be used for energy production and manure. CSIR-CSMCRI demonstrated that the long-term application of Jatropha press cake promotes Jatropha seed yield by enhanced soil organic carbon accumulation, microbial biomass and enzymatic activities in soils of semi-arid tropical wastelands and no residual toxicity was observed in soil.
The work on Jatropha cake by CSIR-CSMCRI, Bhavnagar and IGKV, Raipur was leveraged upon by Chattisgarh Biofuel development authority (CBDA) who subsequently launched their Jatropha cake as “Jatropha jaivik khad” commercially, which has subsequently been found to give very good response on several crops.
Another important by-product of biodiesel refinement is glycerol. The glycerol has been converted into biodegradable polymer (Polyhydroxyalkanoates-PHA’s) through microbial process by CSIR-CSMCRI. Technology to produce producer gas and power was also optimized to value add the Jatropha shells.
(The write-up is a feature from Unit of Science Dissemination, USD, CSIR)