Jatropha : A Revolutionary Biofuel

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Imagine a world, where engines would run without emitting harmful gases off the carbonators. Cars, bikes, trains and even airplanes would thrive on such fuels. The smoke coming out of their exhausts would be reduced ! And the world would no longer be suffering from the fever of global warming ! There wouldn’t be any hue and cry for reducing fuel reserves ! Visions like this are plausible.  And, what makes them so are nothing but Bio-fuels.

Human life has been substantially upgraded in last few centuries. (However, it is unavoidable fact that all this came at the cost of discrepancies in our environment.) And we cannot forget the need for fuels in our daily lives. The fuels /gases that we are using over the years are sediments embedded into our earth whose reserves are huge, yet limited. The technology we own today guide us to explore other possibilities and so we have the idea of biofuels. Biofules are potential fuels that evolved as a feasible idea over the last few decades. There are certain crops whose oilseeds can be commercially decorticated and crushed to produce biologically compatible oils that can fuse life to certain diesel based engines. Such fuels not only produce less smoke but are highly biodegradable. Moreover, the left over after oil extraction can be utilized to act as manure. Apart from oilseeds, animal fat can also be processed to obtain the bio-fuel.

The biofuels are alternative to conventional petroleum based energy fuels. They can either be used in the pure form or they can be mixed with petroleum based fuels to attain efficiency. These can be edible or non-edible oils. Edible oils like that of almond and groundnut can serve as bio-diesel but this might cost us a fortune. So , we generally look for non edible oils like crude palm oil , jatropha oil, mahua oil , neem oil etc. Amongst these, Jatropha carcus is highly popular and potential oilseed plant not because this plant can be cultivated in most barren wastelands (eg. in a state like Rajasthan) but also because this particular oilseed gives the oil which can be biologically degraded to 95% in less than a month. So, if people call it revolutionary biofuel or a game changer, I think it’s not an exaggeration.

Jatropha curcas plants can be grown by various vegetative methods: by cutting , by grafting, budding or by air layering. They can sustain on meager rainfall and do not even need to be watered regularly. They can even survive the high levels of salinity in soil. The nature of this plant is more like a weed, neither needs insecticides nor any special attention for growth. Further, these can also be intercropped with commercial crops.

The oilseeds first appear after a year, however good productivity is achieved only after 2-3 years. The life expectancy of this crop is high, about four decades. So, once they are grown, they can serve for a large span. The oil content is about 30 to 80 percent. The oilseeds are subjected to transesterification in which the oil obtained after crushing the seeds are made to react with methanol leading to the production of bio-diesel floating over glycerin, which can be separated eventually. Amazingly, Jatropha curcas is a special case whose oilseeds produce the oil that can be directly fed to the diesel engines. These are cultivated easily on large landmasses so that yield could be escalated for viable commercial exploitation. Production of as much as 1600 gallons of biofuel per acre per year has been achieved as reported by Times magazine, 2009. Recently, some surveys on Jatropha plant also revealed that its leaves can be used for carbon dioxide absorption, thereby assisting in curbing the carbon content into the air.

There can be certain advantages that can drive us towards this potential source of energy. The conventional fuels, are not only limitedly available but they also cause pollution when used in automobile engines or in factories. The biofuels are expected to be a great hope as the emission rates are considerably low. They also have other benefits attached to them. The residue after trans-esterification, the process that gives bio-diesel, can be utilized by agricultural sector as manure or fodder. Biogas can also be effectively collected from the chambers where the residue is be decomposed by bacteria. Biodiesel is not only healthy for environment but is also healthy for engines. These fuels are supposed to provide higher lubricity thus giving healthier and longer life to engines. The bio- fuels are also credited to have an impact in decreasing the global warming because of reduced rates of emission. Since, there are so many unavoidable benefits that biofuels can provide us with; there is a fair chance we could rely on the same. Currently, such fuels are not as popular , but the environmental conditions that we face today can make us imagine a life running on the same.

However, we still face certain problems that hinder us from using this fuel on a massive scale. The developments of high yielding drought tolerant jatropha seeds are yet to hit the fields. These oilseeds are to be handled too carefully because of the immense toxicity they have. Then, the gestation period for the crop is of 3-5 years which is high. Although, this oilseed doesn’t need much water to thrive the irrigation is still a problem because of the massive area it has to be grown on to utilize it economically. These are certain shortcomings that are our obstructions to a cleaner environment. But, we need to evaluate the total benefits we can get out of this bio-fuel against all these barriers. If we put in some more efforts to boost our technology to harness the oilseeds that can provide us with the cleaner fuels, we can light a candle of hope for our coming generations, we can remit the debts we owe to our environs and most importantly, we can gift ourselves with a greener world carefree of the diminishing fossils.

 

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