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Biofuels have been around as long as cars have. Early diesel engines were shown to run on peanut oil.But discoveries of huge petroleum deposits kept gasoline and diesel cheap for decades, and biofuels were largely forgotten. However, with the recent rise in oil prices, along with growing concern about global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions, biofuels have been regaining popularity.

Gasoline and diesel are actually ancient biofuels. But they are known as fossil fuels because they are made from decomposed plants and animals that have been buried in the ground for millions of years. Biofuels are similar, except that they’re made from plants grown today. Countries around the world are using various kinds of biofuels. For decades, Brazil has turned sugarcane into ethanol, and some cars there can run on pure ethanol rather than as additive to fossil fuels. And biodiesel—a diesel-like fuel commonly made from palm oil—is generally available in Europe.

On the face of it, biofuels look like a great solution. Cars are a major source of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that causes global warming. But since plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, crops grown for biofuels should suck up about as much carbon dioxide as comes out of the tailpipes of cars that burn these fuels. And unlike underground oil reserves, biofuels are a renewable resource since we can always grow more crops to turn into fuel.

Common Biofuel Crops

The most common Biofuel crops include Corn, Rapeseed/Canola, Sugarcane, Palm Oil, Jatropha, Soyabean, Cottonseed, Sunflower seeds, Wheat , Sugarbeet, Cassava, Algae, Coconut, Jojoba, Castor Beans etc.

  1. Biodiesel

Biodiesel is an alternative fuel similar to conventional or ‘fossil’ diesel. Biodiesel can be produced from straight vegetable oil, animal oil/fats, tallow and waste cooking oil. The process used to convert these oils to Biodiesel is called transesterification.

  1. Jatropha

Jatropha curcus is a drought-resistant perennial, growing well in marginal/poor soil. It is easy to establish, grows relatively quickly and lives, producing seeds for 50 years. Jatropha produces seeds with an oil content of 37%. The oil can be combusted as fuel without being refined. It burns with clear smoke-free flame, tested successfully as fuel for simple diesel engine. The by-products are press cake a good organic fertilizer, the oil also contains an insecticide.

It is found to be growing in many parts of the country, rugged in nature and can survive with minimum inputs and easy to propagate.

Medically it is used for diseases like cancer, piles, snakebite, paralysis, dropsy etc. Jatropha grows wild in many areas of India and even thrives on infertile soil. A good crop can be obtained with little effort. Depending on soil quality and rainfall, oil can be extracted from the jatropha nuts after two to five years. The annual nut yield ranges from 0.5 to 12 tons. The kernels consist of oil to about 60 percent; this can be transformed into biodiesel fuel through esterification.

National Policy on Biofuels

Air pollution is finally being recognised as a major environmental problem in India, and transportation has been identified as a major contributor. To address this problem, the Indian government is planning to boost the use of biofuels in transport fuels.

The Ministry of New & Renewable Energy has proposed a national biofuels policy with a target of 20% blending of transportation fuels — diesel and petrol (gasoline) — with bio-diesel and bio-ethanol by 2017. While a blending target for bio-ethanol has been in effect since 2008, a fresh recommendation has been issued for bio-diesel. The government proposes to encourage farmers and landless labourers to plant non-edible oil seeds to boost the production of bio-diesel and bio-ethanol. The agricultural produce shall be procured by public or private processing entities through the Minimum Support Price mechanism.

The government looks to solve several problems in the environment, agriculture, and economic domain. Apart from curbing air pollution from the transportation sector, the government plans to increase employment opportunities for farmers, especially the ones with little financial means. A boost in bio-ethanol will be a lifeline for the desperate sugar industry. To expedite the proliferation of bio-diesel and bio-ethanol across the country, the government will enhance the incentives for processing and production activities. Foreign investment in the sector would also be encouraged.

Cassava as source of Bioethanol

Ethanol production from renewable resources has received attention due to increasing petroleum shortage. One such renewable resource that has been identified is cassava starch. Many countries such as China, Thailand and India are already having success in producing high starch yielding cassava varieties that can be used for ethanol production.

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