Did Anyone Say We Gonna Run Out Of Oil?

Biodiesel is one of the possible candidates to replace fossil fuels as the world's primary transportation energy source.

Published: 13-Dec-2004

as just yesterday that I drove to my school friend whom I haven’t met for say nearly past 3 years. Pratibha Paliwal is working for the Department of Biotechnology in the M.P. Council of Science & Technology as a Junior Research Fellow, presently too much drawn into this project on Biodiesel. I just had a fair idea about bio-fuel, but a discussion of about an hour or so was enough to make me more knowledgeable. Wow, isn’t it surprising that Biodiesel is renewable!

But, before we ponder on its positives, let’s define what Biodiesel is? Biodiesel is an alternative to petroleum-based diesel fuel made from renewable resources such as vegetable oils, animal fats, or algae. It has very similar combustion properties to petroleum diesel, and can replace it in current uses. However, it is most often used as an additive to petroleum diesel, improving the otherwise low lubricity of pure ultra low sulfur petrodiesel fuel. It is one of the possible candidates to replace fossil fuels as the world's primary transportation energy source.

Now, if you were too anxious to know these answers: It is environment friendly (almost zero emission to global warming), clean burning, requires no engine modifications, perhaps increases engine life, biodegradable and non-toxic, and easy to handle & store. Biodiesel has high cetane and lubricity and readily mixes with diesel. Since, it is a farm-fuel it provides ample employment opportunities in the rural areas. Certainly no fuel is perfect and Biodiesel doesn’t stand as an exception to this. It has certain negatives like: higher gel point, emission of NOx which contributes to smog, etc. But these don’t take any credit away from this wonderful alternative to the fossil fuels.

Imagine what wonders Biodiesel can bring to the economies of the world that are battling out against the rise in global oil prices. Would Biodiesel come as a savior? Well, stupendous research work is going on in the field of Biodiesel, but the greatest issue is of mass scale production and commercialization. Various raw materials are being used to produce commercial Biodiesel: rapeseed, sunflower oil (Italy & France), soybean oil (USA & Brazil), palm oil (Malaysia), linseed, olive oil (Spain), cottonseed oil (Greece), beef tallow (Ireland), lard, used frying oil (Austria), Jatropha (India, Nicaragua South America), Guangi-Pi (China), etc.

If one would like to question its acceptance, rest assured the top automobile majors are promoting Biodiesel (including Volkswagen, DaimlerChrysler), as also Shell, Texaco, ELF & Total. And the end-user just cannot wait for such a thing to commercialize.

Pratibha seems to be working on Jatropha (Jatropha curcus, Ratanjot, wild castor) for commercial extraction of Biodiesel from its’ seeds. The plant seems to be growing in most diverse conditions and also found abundantly. She says this will bring immense employment opportunities in the rural areas, and may be able to bring down the prices of diesel once the commercial production is achieved. Internet search revealed that if 10 million hectares of wasteland is brought under Jatropha cultivation then it can yield 15 million tons of seeds which can provide 4 million tons of oil (needless to mention, 11 million tons of organic manure as a by-product).

Biodiesel is here to stay: commercial Biodiesel Gas stations are on the rise, trains have already started to run on Biodiesel & tremendous amount of research is going on. The only thing that remains to be seen is that: Will the Science Textbooks rewrite diesel as “renewable source of energy” in times to come?

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