We have just released a new feature story entitled “India’s Biodiesel Scene” written by Satish Lele, a chemical engineer and entrepreneur from India who has become an expert on biofuels; jatropha in particular. Reading Lele’s story on EcoWorld should not substitute for visiting the biodiesel sections of Lele’s website, which is one of the most comprehensive websites we’ve ever seen on the topic of biodiesel.
It is important to assess the potential of biodiesel crops to meet the increasing demand for fuel in India and elsewhere. On one page of Lele’s website, where he describes in great detail the botanical and chemical features of jatropha, as well as the economics of growing jatropha and the types of land where it can grow (midway down the page), Lele claims that there are 13.4 million hectares of underutilized land in India that could immediately be planted with jatropha.
Lele also claims that jatropha yields 250,000 tons of crude jatropha oil per year per every 100,000 hectares of plantation. This converts to 2.5+ tons of jatropha crude oil per hectare, which at 5.2 barrels of oil per ton, equates to 12.9 barrels of oil per hectare per year. If one multiplies this figure by 13.4 million, which is only 4% of India’s land area, immediate jatropha oil potential in India would be 173 million barrels of oil per year – 22% of India’s current consumption of petroleum-derived crude oil.
We ran a story recently entitled “Biodiesel – The Alternative Fuel That’s Already Here” which has a chart showing yields per acre of various biodiesel crops. We got the data for that table from a website operated by Journey to Forever, which is also an excellent reference source for information about biodiesel. The data from this source claims jatropha can yield a more modest 1.6 tons of crude jatropha oil per hectare, but even so, under this assumption planting 4% of India’s land with jatropha would supply 15% of India’s current petroleum consumption. Moreover, the assumptions from this source probably weren’t based on prime land – and within India there are additional millions of hectares of marginal lands that will still support a jatropha crop that is economically viable.
Worldwide, the potential of biodiesel and bioethanol is huge, although by themselves not sufficient to completely replace petroleum. But in conjunction with development of other alternative energy sources, and more efficient energy consumption, biofuels will play a vital role in meeting the energy requirements of tomorrow.