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The fuel of the future

Bio-diesel is expected to meet 20 per cent of India's diesel requirement

Bio-diesel ignites better and burns up to 70 per cent cleaner, has much better lubricating properties and extends engine life.

ACID TEST: The Managing Director of DaimlerChrysler, Hubert (left), and the Indian coordinator, K. Ghosh, at Khardung-la in Kashmir during the test run of bio-diesel cars.

EVER SINCE the oil crisis of the mid-Seventies shook up the entire world, most developed countries as well as leading car manufacturers had thought of producing alternative fuels that could keep the wheels moving. If the most important ingredient that propels the automobile is in jeopardy then who in the world is going to buy an automobile? This was the question that came up before automobile manufacturers and while some of them were pessimistic the others were left to the fait accompli. However, there were the dedicated ones who started doing their home work a bit more seriously and came up with various alternatives such as ethanol, methanol, Liquefied gases, compressed natural gas, hydrogen, electricity, fuel cells and many others that are still being tested by scientists and car manufacturers of the world. Till date no fuel other than the two fossil fuels — petrol and diesel — has been found that is equally well suited for the conventional internal combustion engine. It is also convenient and efficient to make the engines run at peak performance and yet keep a sort of balance with the ecology without additives and catalysts at the final stage of the exhaust gas.

After a decade of research DaimlerChrysler in collaboration with the University of Hohenheim in Germany and the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute in India headed by Pushpito K. Ghosh have come out with a near normal bio-diesel alternative to the conventional diesel. This fuel comes from a small nut like fruit of a fully grown bush about eight feet tall. The "jatropha'' takes about two years to mature. The nut is taken apart and the seeds are crushed in a sort of oil a `modern' village `kohlu' (oil expeller). The oil from the seeds is then processed and refined and this is the bio-diesel.

In India the bio-diesel project has been running in the semi-arid and non-productive lands of Gujarat and Orissa for more than three years now under the guidance of CSMCRI.

Indian project

When in full swing, this scheme will prove to be a boon to millions of poor farmers in semi and totally arid areas. The jatropha crop grown on such farmlands will not hamper the usual cropping pattern, on the other hand it can provide additional income to the farmers. Of the estimated 130 million hectares of wasteland in India about 33 million are still available for reclamation through tree plantation, according to Planning Commission figures.

The `test-phase of the bio-diesel project has involved running an unmodified C-class Mercedes-Benz on bio diesel for over 25,000 kilometres till date and the `acid test' was to run successfully three such vehicles (two `C' class and one seven seater Viano van) from the Pune works of DaimlerChrysler to the world's highest motorable road at 18,380 feet above sea level at Khardung-la in Kashmir through the frozen and highest desert in the world.

These tests have demonstrated the viability of bio-diesel as a suitable alternative to conventional fuels, especially in the Indian context. Through this trial run CSMCRI and DaimlerChrysler are now making improvements in its emission properties and removing anti freezing glitches. The road test is expected to offer valuable findings with respect to the characteristics of bio-diesel under demanding terrain and weather conditions. The fuel has been found to have better `cetane' rating that improves engine performance by 20 per cent over the conventional diesel and can be used in any diesel fired engine — even in the most primitive diesel engine with no pre-heater for starting, a tractor or power generating diesel generating set. Bio-diesel ignites better and burns up to 70 per cent cleaner, has much better lubricating properties, extends engine life.

It has been recorded in Germany that a truck ran more than 1.25 million kilometres on bio-diesel before it was opened for an overhaul. It reduces substantially toxic emissions, and being plant based, does not add C02 to the atmosphere. The ozone depleting potential of the exhaust gases is less than half that of its fossil counterpart. Bio-diesel can be produced from any fat of vegetable or waste oil and can be easily stored and transported as its flash point is 157 against 54 of conventional diesel. Its cost after allowing for the value of all byproducts works out to Rs. 27 a litre before taxes. (Oxygen supplied to the global atmosphere is an added benefit).

It is forecast that by 2020 bio-diesel will be able to meet up to 20 per cent of India's diesel consumption. This is a very optimistic outlook indeed.


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