Priscilla Jebaraj

CHIDAMBARAM: Eco-friendly bio-diesel could soon become cheaper. A pilot plant using a cost-effective new technique developed by the National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) in Pune will start production in India by 2008.

According to NCL scientist Darbha Srinivas, a U.S.-based start-up firm New Century Lubricants is in talks with at least five Indian petroleum firms, which have expressed interest in running the one-tonne a day plant. It is simultaneously holding discussions with U.S. oil companies to begin large-scale production in other parts of the world.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Indian Science Congress, Dr. Srinivas said the cost of producing bio-diesel would ``fall substantially'' by using his technique, which uses solid fuel catalysts called ``double metal components'' rather than the hydroxide-based catalysts used so far. The technique was patented by the NCL one and half years ago, and licensed to New Century in November 2006.

The current cost of producing bio-diesel is about Rs. 27 a litre, which is then sold at Rs. 40 a litre, according to Dr. Srinivas. The new method cuts the cost by shortening the process of converting used and unrefined oils such as jatropha, rubber seed and pinnai into bio-diesel. ``We are also giving value addition by blending the glycerine produced as a by-product back into the bio-diesel,'' he said.

The same process will be used to produce India's first bio-lubricants, using octanol and other higher alcohols. ``The market for bio-lubricants is small but the profits are much higher [than for bio-diesel],'' said Dr. Srinivas.

The NCL has successfully tested the process using 13 edible and inedible oils.