It is estimated that by the year 2012, nearly 13.38 million tons of
biodiesel will be produced, using nearly 13.4 million hectare of land
across India. But the target for jatropha, a non-native plant, could
not be achieved because of several constraints
Dr Dinabandhu Sahoo,
secretary, Indian Phycological Society, Marine Biotechnology
Laboratory, Department of Botany, University of Delhi, New Delhi
Worldwide energy demand — particularly for transportation-based fuels —
contin-ues to rise. As per International Energy Agency's World Energy
Outlook, if usage of energy continues in the same way, then the world
will run out of all energy reserves by 2099. Again, if the energy
consumption rate for all other countries reaches the level of the US,
then we would run out of energy by 2048.
According to Oil and Gas Journal estimates, worldwide energy reserves
at the beginning of 2004, were 1.27 trillion barrels of oil and 6,100
trillion cubic feet of natural gas. At today’s consumption rate of 85
million barrels per day, the oil reserves will perish much sooner than
expected. More than 100 billion gallons of fossil fuel is consumed by
the US alone. The US currently imports approximately two-thirds of its
petroleum; 60 percent of which is used for producing transportation
fuel. Because of this depleting oil resources and the concern over
climate change, biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol, have
attracted attention in the past several years.
European Union has been the leader in biodiesel production, followed by
the US. Several other countries like Brazil, Argentina, China,
Indonesia and Malaysia are expanding their production capacities.
Around 10 billion liters of biodiesel were produced in 2007 — an
11-fold increase since 2000. The global biodiesel market is estimated
to reach 37 billion gallons by 2016; with an average annual growth of
Sources of Biofuels
Currently, many types of vegetable oils like soybean oil, palm oil,
sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, waste cooking oil, animal fats are
extensively used for biodiesel production. Food crops like maize, corn,
sugarcane are extensively used for bioethanol production. This has not
only led to greater debate on ethical issue like food versus fuel, but
also on the extensive use of water for crops. Because of these
problems, other non-edible oil resources like jatropha, pongamia,
castor, are now gaining attention as alternate biodiesel crops.
Although substantial investment has been done in jatropha, results have
not been encouraging, commercially. Now, globally, it has been
demonstrated that algae can be a potential source of both biodiesel and
bioethanol, as it does not compete with food; and can be grown in waste
water or saline water.
Due to limited domestic crude oil reserves, India imports around 70
percent of crude oil. India’s biofuels program is centered on
bioethanol from sugarcane molasses and biodesel from non-edible crops.
The Government of India approved the National Policy on Biofuels in
December 2009, which envisages an ambitious plans.
Drawbacks of Jatropha
The Government of India’s Biofuels Committee submitted a report in
April 2003, in which it found that jatropha curcas is the most suitable
species for biodiesel, because of several advantages like:
❖ Ability to grow in degraded wasteland having low rainfall of 200
❖ Easy to plant, grow and collect, without fencing.
❖ It is possible to integrate jatropha plantation with social forestry
and poverty alleviation.
❖ Byproducts can be used for manure and biogas production.
❖ Average planting density of 2,500 trees/ha, with average oil contents
of 30-35 percent, average seed production 3.75 tons/ha, average oil
yield of 1200 kg/ha.
It was estimated that by 2012, nearly 13.38 million tons of biodiesel
will be produced using nearly 13.4 million hectare of land across
India. But the target for jatropha, a non-native plant, could not be
achieved because of several constraints:
❖ Land has been an emotional issue in India. Unavailability of large
stretch of land, issues related to ownership rights, complexities in
land holding laws are creating issues.
❖ Long gestation period of up to five-to-six years. The marginal
farmers cannot wait for such a long period. Most of the farmers feel
that jatropha cultivation is not rewarding.
❖ Initial inputs of fertilizer, irrigation, pesticides and labor cost
for pruning are very high.
❖ Variation in seed yield, oil contents and price structure.
Besides government agencies, several large and small private sector
players have entered jatropha cultivation projects, but many of them
closed down due to several factors.
Algae offer a variety of approaches starting from carbon dioxide
capture from the source, and converting it not only to biodiesel and
bioethanol, but also various other valuable products. Algae require
less land areas for growth; can be cultivated in waste, brackish or
saline water. They can be grown in a wide range of temperatures and
varied environmental conditions. For the production of one million
gallon/year of biodiesel, specialized algae will require less than 100
acres of land; where as jatropha needs 4,500 acres and soybean requires
16,000 acres of land.
Till date, about
4,600 crore ($1 billion) has been spent for
developing algal biofuel. A large number of companies and venture
capitalists have invested heavily in algal biodiesel projects.
In 2010, the US Department of Energy announced about
3.7 crore ($80 million) in funding for research
in algae-based biofuels. Exxon Mobil and Synthetic Genomics have
announced a massive investment of about
2,700 crore ($600 million) for Algae Biofuel
One of the major focuses of the present US administration is to be
self-reliant on oil production, from strategic point of view. Thus, as
per the US Naval Task Force on Energy, by 2012, all ships and aircraft
on demo group are to be certified to run on 50 percent biofuel blend.
By 2016, each ship will contain full load of biofuels.
The US and EU are leading investors in biofuels. Since the investments
are huge, the companies operating in these regions have kept the
production facilities completely confidential. Huge investments have
gone into strain improvements program, photo bioreactor designs and
intellectual property rights (IPRs).
In the long run, these overseas companies will develop production
technology and business models, then license the production technology
to developing countries at a high price, making biofuel production from
algae, economically unviable.
Thus, efforts are being initiated to set up algal biorefineries, to get
multiple products from the same strain of algae. The biofuel industries
in the US have already set up an algal biomass organization and their
counterpart in Europe has set up a similar body.
Besides using algae for biofuel, they are being used as food, feed,
fertilizers. Marine algal extracts like agar, carerageen and alginates
are extensively used in ice-cream, toothpaste, medicines, beauty
products, soap, shampoo, textile printing, beer refining, juice,
chocolate making, flavored milk, meet processing, packaging, bakery
products, pet foods, sanitary napkins, air freshener, tissue culture
media and a large number of other industries. Today, marine algae
market is valued at about
320 crore ($7 billion).
Realizing the huge potential of algae in the future, the author has
developed and implemented the “First All India Coordinated Project on
Large Scale Algae Cultivation in India”, with the help of the
Department of Science & Technology, Government of India.
A major initiative has been adopted at the international level through
“Asian Network for Using Algae as a CO2 Sink”, comprising researchers
from 10 different nations led by South Korea. The author represents
India in this vital group. The investment in algal biofuels is growing
rapidly. But we need the right combination, right people and right
approach to make it a success. Algae biofuel is soon heading to be a
booming industry. Now is the time to act, and the Indian government and
industries have to take note.