Hohenheim University Nut Oil To Biodiesel


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Hohenheim University: Nut-oil to Biodiesel. posted by Youmanitas Energy Farms Foundation

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Hohenheim University Nut Oil To Biodiesel

  1. 1. Jatropha curcas – an undemanding plant for biodiesel production Nut-oil to biodiesel Jatropha curcas is an undemanding plant n the last two years, the oleaginous save on costly mineral oil imports and I plant Jatropha curcas has become a develop rural regions? which grows in veritable media star around the world. Also known as physic nut, the plant even Hope for farmers with subtropical and merited a feature in the Germany’s lead- degraded land tropical regions around ing daily newspaper Frankfurter Allge- meine Zeitung. Another name is often the globe, even in the mentioned in the same breath as jat- The farmers from Chorvadla in the dry ropha: that of Chorvadla, a small Indian state of Gujarat are sorely in need of a poorest soils – so its village in Gujarat State – a place that few drought-tolerant fuel crop. «There is little production does not people in the world would ever have we can do with this barren land,» says vil- heard of, bar its own inhabitants. lage elder Vallhaba Bhai, pointing to the compete with food The reason for the sudden popularity of parched steppe surrounding the planta- this out-of-the-way location is a trial plan- tion. «In future, maybe we will actually be crops. The highly tation around ten hectares in size. It is able to use the land.» The village has oleaginous nuts can be planted with long rows of mainly young around 500 hectares of wasteland which jatropha bushes; the green of their foliage would be suitable for jatropha production. used for the production is in striking contrast to the parched sur- Even in the monsoon season, there is little of motor and heating roundings. The bushes bear fruit the size rainfall in this part of Gujarat. To the north of a walnut. The fruit contain three black of the state lie the deserts of Rajasthan. fuel. What are the seeds which have an oil content of around But even many parts of Gujarat are domi- 60 percent. Therein lie the hopes of many nated by acute water scarcity. The river prospects for rural small farmers all over the world. For the beds run dry for most of the year. Recent- regions if this oil plant, very oleaginous kernels can be used to ly the state has gained a new supply of make both biodiesel and vegetable oil, to water from the controversial Narmada which has only ever be used as motor and heating fuel. The dams, transported through a complex plant flourishes on the most meagre of channel and pipeline system. This allows grown in the wild, can soils, and needs little water to survive (see the farmers of Chorvadla to grow sesame, be brought into box on page 39). millet and cotton on their better land – but only with the aid of irrigation. cultivation? Ten men from the village work on the tri- Indian-German cooperation in al plantation. This helps to spread the the bioenergy sector word about jatropha among the villagers. In addition, the CSMCRI runs information The test plantation in Gujarat is part of a events in the village to generate interest public-private partnership (PPP) project in the new crop. For what is the use of the between Daimler Chrysler, the University best research findings on the usefulness of Hohenheim, the German Investment of physic nut as a biofuel without a supply and Development Company (DEG) and of the raw material itself? the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI). The project is First step: Study the wild plant receiving some EUR 500,000 in funding from DEG, while Daimler Chrysler is sup- Foto: agenda/Böthling porting the research to the tune of Before thousands of small farmers invest approximately EUR 1.3 million, including money and labour into jatropha planta- supplying some of its C-class models as tions, well-founded research is needed test vehicles. The models manufactured in into this plant, which is otherwise only its Indian plant in Pune (Maharashtra known as a wild plant. «A crop plant like State) run on jatropha-based biodiesel, maize, for example, has been selected and and have already completed a highly-pub- improved by breeders over many cen- Klaus Sieg licized 10,000 kilometres road trip across turies,» explains Professor Klaus Becker of agenda – Photographers & Journalists India. the University of Hohenheim. «Jatropha Hamburg, Germany Can the cultivation and economic use of has great potential, but so far little or no sieg@agenda-fototext.de jatropha help to lower CO2 emissions, breeding work has been done.» Professor 37 agriculture & rural development 2/2007
  2. 2. Producing their own supply of biodiesel derived from Jatropha oil gives farmers great cost savings. Bioenergy Foto: agenda/Böthling whether this characteristic will change in Becker has been working on jatropha for «Our aim is to optimize the yields of jat- the context of large-scale production. fifteen years. ropha,» reports Junabhai Sambhubhai Four years ago the University of Hohen- Patolia of CSMCRI. «In order to keep yields heim in Germany approached Daimler up, we have to irrigate during the four- Propagation is a sticking point Chrysler about its project in India. The month dry season at a rate of about 100 involvement of the Stuttgart-based cor- litres per plant,» explains the scientist. poration has not only brought the project One major problem is that of propagating During the establishment phase, it is also financial and logistical support but also, from the selected elite plants, which are necessary to weed the plantation and the above all, international attention. Even so, currently being studied on the plantation farmers have to prune the plants. Harvest- Klaus Becker warns against premature to establish their agronomic parameters. ing is done by hand. euphoria: «As yet, we do not have stand- The offspring need to be genetically iden- All parts of the plant are poisonous and ardized seed stock, predictable yields, or tical. So far that can only be achieved by are never grazed upon by goats or cows. research-based production methods – but using cuttings and transplants. But The plantations can therefore be left nowhere is all this being studied more because a cutting needs to be at least 30 unfenced – a crucial advantage in poor intensively than right now in Gujarat.» In centimetres in size, only a limited number regions. Nevertheless, the scientists calcu- partnering with the CSMCRI, the Universi- of cuttings can be obtained from one par- late an initial investment equivalent to ty of Hohenheim has successfully attract- ent plant. EUR 250 per hectare. That is a substantial ed one of the most expert research insti- Propagation from seed may result in alter- sum for a small-scale Indian farmer. The tutes in India. The recultivation of degrad- ation of the genetic material. One possi- plant only gives economically viable yields ed and salinized soils happens to be one ble means of propagating genetically after five years – but then remains pro- of its research priorities. identical jatropha plants on a large scale ductive for more than thirty years. After In the past year, CSMCRI has collected may be tissue culture. So far, however, all that, it is time to replant. numerous wild species of the jatropha attempts at this have failed, to Professor On the soils around Chorvadla, the scien- plant, from which it has selected a num- Becker’s regret. Although as a scientist he tists aim to achieve yields of around two ber of «elite cultivars». These cultivars believes that propagation by tissue cul- tonnes of fruits per hectare, once the dif- produce three or four times the yields of ture is the right approach, he warns ferent cultivars and cultivation methods the wild plants used hitherto. Trials with against undue euphoria at this stage: have been researched. This could be made the elite cultivars, which have been plant- «Currently hundreds of thousands of into about 500 litres of biodiesel. At the ed on the test site near Chorvadla as well hectares of jatropha crops are being filling station, the current price of a litre of as another plantation in Orissa State, aim developed, all using plants which have diesel is around 35-40 rupees, which con- to find out how much water the plant been propagated from seed; nobody yet verts into about 70 cents in Euro. Any requires to thrive in the first phase of knows how these plantations will turn farmer who was self-sufficient in fuel growth, how much water and fertilizer it out.» derived from jatropha oil would stand to needs to produce optimum yields, and Jatropha also grows on rocky soils with gain up to 20,000 rupees per hectare, how much space it requires for optimum only a thin layer of humus. The plant can equivalent to EUR 350. This is the amount growth. Another question is whether jat- survive in these conditions even without a farmer could save if he did not have to ropha will remain resistant to pests or fertilizers or artificial irrigation. buy diesel for his vehicles. 38 agriculture & rural development 2/2007
  3. 3. degradation are most likely to affect small In order to manufacture biodiesel, an oil interest has been reawakened by the farms, which are often on low-quality soil, mill if not a proper biodiesel plant is explosion in mineral oil prices. and some of which have already lost up to required. These usually expensive facili- In July 2006, the subcontinent’s first com- one-third of their arable land. ties are generally operated by coopera- mercial plant to produce biodiesel from India’s economy is prospering. In 2005 it tives. The processed fuel could be sold on jatropha went into operation. Partners of grew by 8 percent, and experts expect the local market, but in that case, the this PPP project, initiated by GTZ near similar growth for 2006. The country has a additional costs of transportation and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh State, are productive industrial sector and large middlemen also have to be taken into the leading German plant engineering numbers of highly skilled workers. Never- account. An alternative option is to mar- firm, Lurgi AG and the Indian partner theless, a quarter of India’s 1.2 billion ket the nut unprocessed, which would Chemical Construction International. An inhabitants have to survive on less than generate the equivalent of EUR 250 per Indian company, Southern Online Bio one dollar per day. India’s population of hectare, according to the scientists’ esti- Technologies Ltd. is operating the plant working age numbers 400 million, of mates. with a capacity of 10,000 tonnes of bio- which 36 million are unemployed. Many fuel per year. A bus company from Hyder- of the poor live in rural areas. Almost 60 abad will purchase its entire output. Utilizing by-products percent of Indians work in agriculture, a Other public bus operators and Indian sector which does generate as much as a Railways are also said to be showing great quarter of gross national product. Rural «In order to optimize the economic bene- interest. The operator of the biodiesel development is therefore a central chal- fits to the farmers, we must find a use for plant has arranged contracts with farmers lenge for the Indian government. Jatropha the whole of the plant,» says Pushpito from around sixty villages in the sur- is expected to play an important role, at Ghosh, director of CSMCRI in Bhavnaghar. rounding area, to promote the systematic least if one believes the government’s Besides the production of biodiesel, the cultivation of jatropha as well as declarations. team of scientists and engineers is con- Pongamia pinnata, a native oil tree. ducting research into other uses of the by- Already there is surplus demand for the products. The oil cake left after pressing nut of the jatropha bush. So far, the GTZ programme to promote the fruits can be made into livestock feed. majority of projects have been supplied jatropha in India The one prerequisite is to neutralize the with nuts from wild plants, since commer- highly toxic phorbol ester which the plant cial plantations do not yet exist. The price contains. Another promising fuel project involving of wild fruits has rocketed: originally 3 The transesterification of the plant oil jatropha is being supported in India by rupees, it has now risen to over 20 rupees into biodiesel produces a large quantity of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische per kilogram. glycerine. The institute uses this to make Zusammenarbeit (GTZ – German Techni- Furthermore, assistance in the form of products such as soap, but is also experi- cal Cooperation). Twenty years ago, the microfinancing programmes will encour- menting with the use of bacteria to oleaginous physic nut gained considera- age the establishment of small, local oil obtain biopolymers from the gelatinous ble attention; back then, the project was mills. This will create new, sustainable mass. These could be used in the manu- not pursued further, probably because the sources of income in the rural areas facturing of car seats, for instance. time was not yet ripe for biofuels. Now around Hyderabad. In the year 2005, the in-house pilot plant produced around 8,000 litres of biodiesel which complied with the European DIN Jatropha curcas: The undemanding oil supplier 14214 standard. CO2 emissions are compa- rable to those from oilseed rape biodiesel. The Jatropha plant is a shrub belonging to the spurge family and originates from The pilot plant is capable of producing Central and South America. Today it grows in subtropical and tropical regions around 250 litres per day and costs around EUR the globe. The evergreen shrub thrives in a very dry climate with only 250 millimetres 30,000. A similar plant could equally well of rainfall per year, but also grows in regions where annual rainfall is anything up to be operated by a farmers’ cooperative. So 2,500 millimetres. The plant develops best with rainfall of around 900 to 1,200 mil- far, however, interest in the jatropha limetres. The jatropha bush has research work at the institute in Bhavna- thick roots which help it to uti- gar has come mainly from industry – from lize water very efficiently. In corporations such as BP and the Indian times of persistent drought, it conglomerate Reliance. sheds its leaves so as to reduce In Gujarat, there are no concrete plans as transpiration. yet for the commercial production of Hedges made with jatropha biodiesel from Jatropha. Nevertheless, the bushes can protect the soil from Indian market for diesel is huge. India has wind erosion. The roots are to import the bulk of its petroleum and dense and close to the surface, pay dearly for it. In 2005, diesel consump- which also mitigates water ero- Photo: agenda/Böthling tion ran to 40 million tonnes. Consump- sion. The jatropha plant grows tion for 2006 is expected to be 52 million even on nutrient-poor, stony tonnes. Even the addition of 5 percent of soils. Therefore its cultivation biodiesel would equate to a demand for does not compete with food 2.5 million tonnes, making it a worthwhile production. On the contrary, by market for the exploration of alternatives. planting jatropha it is possible to improve degraded soils so that food can be grown There is an abundance of land on which again. The shedding of leaves on jatropha plantations begins to rebuild the humus the undemanding fuel plant can be layer. grown: India has over 170 million hectares All parts of the plant are toxic. For generations, farmers have used jatropha hedges of wasteland. Climate change, erosion and to protect fields and gardens from game damage caused by roaming animals. Plan- tations of physic nut bushes do not therefore need to be fenced in, which saves effort and expense. 39 agriculture & rural development 2/2007