|Jatropha nuts finding a traditional
mode of transportation from tree to press.
Editor’s Note: For a few years now we have been fortunate enough to be included on an email distribution from Sreenivas Ghatty, the founder of Tree Oils India. Leaving a career in corporate banking, and already having done post graduate work in agriculture, for the last five years Mr. Ghatty and his small company have been developing high yield strains of oil yielding trees.
The world of biofuels has been turned on its ears in the past twelve months, as environmentalists finally realized policies they supported to reduce use of petroleum had literally created a subsidized global market for biofuel – leading to massive new rounds of rainforest destruction to grow, for example, oil palms. Suddenly biofuels is not being described as the answer to everything.
Yet through all this there has always been the promise of sustainable biofuel – a crop that stablizes soil, serves as a windbreak, and grows in arid land where nothing else will survive. A fuel crop that not only will not displace food crops, but will protect crop land from encroaching deserts by providing a living buffer. And in India, Sreenivas Ghatty’s research is creating jatropha and pongamia trees with higher yields than ever.
Louis Strydom, an international expert in jatropha cultivation, and a frequent contributor to EcoWorld, had the following to say about Ghatty: “Sreenivas is very much the expert on Jatropha cultivation and any report you get from him can be expected to be very good.” So when Ghatty sent us the following account of his work developing jatropha and pongamia, we knew it was important to share with our readers.
Before running this report, I emailed Mr. Ghatty and asked him how the breakthroughs in yields were achieved. He said “We achieved the breakthrough in Jatropha yields by doing the following: Selecting the right plantation material, providing the right combination of nutrients, irrigating the plants during critical periods, pruning them at the right time and length, and managing the pests and diseases.”
Just last week, Mr. Ghatty emailed his readership excerpts from a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Biofuels Are Indefensible in Our Hungry World,” written by Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the Chairman of Nestle. In the editorial, global warming alarmists are excoriated. They are held responsible for creating catastrophic disruptions both to the tropical ecosystems on a planetary scale as well as to the global food supply. There is some truth to these accusations, particularly the given the righteous, intolerant urgency the environmentalists brought to their campaigns that uncritically advocated biofuels. That Ghatty would not suppress this scathing indictment of biofuel shows his integrity. Dialogue and debate is essential so we can sort out what defines good biofuel practices. Despite recent and appropriate reversals of sentiment towards biofuel, there are ways to do it right.
Will sustainable biofuel, using dedicated crops in areas where food crops can’t survive, combined with next generation extraction from waste streams, become a significant source of fuel in the future? And since a high yield tree in the semi-desert becomes an even higher yielding tree on fertile farmland, will sustainability principles be enforceable? Conscientiously applied, biofuel still has the potential to significantly contribute to global fuel demand, at the same time as it benefits ecosystems and local economies. – Ed “Redwood” Ring
|Jatropha trees at the Tree Oils Ltd.
plantation in Andhra Pradesh.
Tree Oils India Limited (TOIL) was established in 2003 to produce biodiesel from non-edible tree based oils (feedstocks).
As these feedstocks were not available in sufficient quantities and at reasonable price at the time, TOIL started with plantation activity. As there were no tested varieties of these tree species and knowledge of agronomy was limited, TOIL started a research farm to begin with.
Since then, TOIL has emerged as a biodiesel plantation technology company engaged in research and development non-edible oil-bearing trees such as Pongamia, Jatropha etc. The existing sources such as palm, canola, soybean and coconut oils, used cooking oil and tallow are expensive and are not available in large quantities. Hence, non-edible oils from trees such as Jatropha and Pongamia are being developed as cost effective and sustainable feedstocks.
Pongamia and Jatropha could be cultivated in marginal areas, including desert, other than forests with lower rainfall and poor soils. They are being grown in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and survived well in Dubai. The biggest advantage of these trees is that there is no competition with agriculture and food production.
There is a concern that biodiesel from edible oils increases the cost of food around the world and forests are being cleared to grow them. Even otherwise, it is felt that the biodiesel crops compete with agriculture for land and water. Our approach of using non-edible oils produced by hard trees that are grown in non-agricultural and non-forest lands offers a solution to these issues.
Plants: Jatropha curcas is Latin American in origin and is closely related to Castor. It is a large shrub and can thrive in a number of climatic zones in arid and semi-arid tropical regions of the world. An easy to establish perennial, it can grow in areas of low rainfall of 250 mm per year and is drought tolerant.
|Pongamia trees – along with Jatropha,
these trees tolerate poor, arid soils.
Pongamia pinnata is a native of India and grows in dry places far in the interior and up to an elevation of 1000 m. It is a hardy tree that mines water for its needs up to 10 metre depths without competing with other crops.
Jatropha and Pongamia have relative cost advantage as they are perennial trees that require minimum inputs. Goldman Sachs estimated that Jatropha was lowest in terms of cost of production.
People: The Company was founded by Mr. Sreenivas Ghatty, a post graduate in Agriculture and was a corporate banker and project manager with exposure to credit appraisal, agri-business and energy cropping. He worked with multinational banks, including State Bank of India and Emirates Bank International, in India and Middle East Asia for eighteen years. He is the founder of Tree Oils India Limited and for the last five years, his focus has been on research and development of oil bearing trees, energy crops and contract farming. In his most recent assignment as Development Director Energy Cropping for Australian Biodiesel Group, Mr. Sreenivas Ghatty worked to develop large scale Biodiesel Plantations and alternate energy crops in Australia.
Progress: In order to facilitate commercial production of Tree Based Oils on large scale, TOIL established 120 Acres of R&D centre in India in 2003.
The plantation consists of:
· 60 Acres of Pongamia (Indian Beech)
· 40 Acres of Jatropha (Physic Nut)
· 5 Acres of Moringa (Drumstick)
· 2 Acres of Azadirachta (Neem)
· 1 Acre of Sapindus (Soap nut)
· 1 Acre of Simarouba (Paradise)
TOIL also planted to conduct research:
· Madhuca (Mahua)
· Aleurites (Candle Nut)
· Sapium (Chinese Tallow)
· Calophyllum (Poon)
TOIL took up various soil and water conservation measures and has been using mostly biofertilisers and biopesticides to promote sustainable farming. Experiments are being conducted to find out the optimum set of inter crops and package of practices for them.
TOIL have also established nursery for Jatropha cuttings and Pongamia grafts and started Apiculture and Vermicompost activities. The focus was on developing an integrated Tree Based Oils Farming System to be adopted by the farmers under contract farming system in the next five years.
TOIL have been conducting trials to develop suitable silviculture practices with specific emphasis on evaluation of Jatropha selections, different doses of fertiliser applications, irrigation at different intervals and various types of pruning. Based on this research and the feedback obtained from our panel of advisors, meaningful conclusions on Jatropha and Pongamia are being drawn.
To intensify the research efforts, Tree Oils Development Centre (TODC) is being established. High quality plantation material could be sourced from the company’s nursery and the knowledge and expertise gained by TOIL could be modified to suit the local conditions in other locations.
|Harvested jatropha nuts – can these plants help local economies and contribute
to global fuel supplies? Can their cultivation be encouraged on arid wasteland?
Participation: As technical partners to the project owners TOIL can:
· Provide technical support and guidance in developing and maintaining Jatropha and Pongamia plantations.
· Guide in deciding on the choice of suitable species and agronomic practices depending on the agro climatic conditions.
· Supply high quality planting materials and provide guidance to set up nurseries at project locations.
· Train project personnel at their farm in India on all aspects of cultivation of Jatropha and Pongamia.
· Monitor the plantation activity at the project site and have regular presence on site.
· Provide services of advisors and experts to meet the project needs.
· Take up specific research projects to meet your needs, if required.
Projects: TOIL worked with the following biodiesel manufacturing and feedstock management companies so far and assisted them in establishing Jatropha and Pongamia plantations:
· BioMassive, Sweden for their Jatropha plantation project in Tanzania
· Global Green Energy, Sydney, Australia for their Jatropha plantation project in Ghana
· Global Tree Oils, Singapore for their Jatropha plantation project in Thailand
· Pacific Renewable Energy, Brisbane, Australia for their Pongamia research and plantation project in Australia
· Australian Biodiesel Group, Sydney, Australia for their Jatropha plantation project in Solomon Islands
Future Plans: TOIL intends to take up the following activities in future:
· Intensify research and develop IP for cultivation of Pongamia, Jatropha and other tree based oils, including high yielding varieties.
· Establish plantations in India and other countries on their own and through joint ventures.
· Execute turnkey projects for corporates or high net worth individuals to establish Jatropha and Pongamia plantations.
· Work with farmers, NGOs/SHGs to establish plantations and support them with technical inputs and buy back agreement.
· Conduct collaborative research on tree based oils and energy crops with companies who are planning to enter this activity by giving access to their five year old research farm.