Saturday, September 1, 2007

Honge Oil proves to be a good biodiesel

One evening in early 1999, Dr.Udipi Shrinivasa from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore was having tea with some locals in Kagganahalli village.

...After all Rudolf Diesel used peanut oil to run the first ever diesel engine.

..."Here we were,- all scientists- looking at technical solutions like windmills, gasifiers, solar panels and methane generators for rural India, and we had not made the obvious connection with the potential of non-edible oils known from Vedic times as fuels."

...In the 1930s the British Institute of Standards, Calcutta had examined, over a 10 year period, a series of eleven non edible oils as potential 'diesels', among them the oil from Pongamia Pinnata ['Honge' in Kannada]. In 1942, during those dark war years the prestigious US journal, 'Oil and Power' had in an editorial euologised Honge Oil as technically a fit candidate to generate industrial-strength power.

...War was over, oil fields were secure again, everyone got lazy and the petroleum industry got smart: it pumped out and flooded the world with fuels, at times cheaper than the cost of water.

...And yet a Honge oil economy did survive in India, though once removed from direct contact with people. Dr.Shrinivasa estimates that the size of trade in Honge oil['Karanji' in Hindi and 'Pungai' in Tamil] controlled by the Bombay commodities market is 1 million tonnes feeding mostly soap making and lubricants industries. In Warrangal, Andhra Pradesh, the Azamshahi Textile Mills, set up by the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1940, generated all the power needs of the factory using non-edible oils until its recent closure; and it had surplus power left over for the city's needs!

...It is a hardy tree that mines water for its needs from 10 metre depths without competing with other crops.... From year-3 it yields pods and production is a mature average of 160kG per tree per year from year-10, through to its life of 100 years. Ten trees can yield 400 litres of oil, 1200 kg of fertiliser grade oil cake and 2500kg of biomass as green manure per year.

...If the farmer collected the seeds free from his land, had it milled and sold the oil cake at Rs.3 per kG, the cost of oil to him was Rs.4 per litre.... If he bought the seeds at Rs.3.50 per kilo, the cost was Rs.9 per litre and if he bought the ready oil from the market it was Rs.20. The potential to drive the rural economy, make it autonomous and put some cash in its pockets was obvious.

...If the power and fertiliser needs are met by Honge, villages would have cash surpluses," says Dr.Shrinivasa.

..."...30 million hectare equivalent [planted for biodiesels] can completely replace the current use of fossil fuels, both liquid and solid, renewably, at costs India can afford," says Dr. Shrinivasa. Our oil bill is $6 billion a year; we can put a third of that cash in the hands of rural Indians, have our oil needs met and save the two thirds.

...P.V.Jose of the company read an early press release about Dr.Shrinivasa's findings on Honge oil and got in touch with him. Coordinating with Dr.Shrinivasa, Dandeli converted all five of their 1 megaWatt diesel engines to run on biodiesel.

...Rs.200,000 was spent on sourcing satellite images to identify fracture lines and from them, deep water sources were identified using electrical sensitivity measurements. 20 bore wells of depths varying from 200' to 300' were drilled in the project area spread over 40 sq.kM. Submersible pumps were let into the wells and a project-level 440 volt grid was created to power the pumps.

...Honge seeds were collected from the project area, taken to a miller at a nearby town.

...Energy flowed through the project grid, charged the pumps and water sprayed out of a rain gun. For the first time ever in history Kagganahalli witnessed a source of water other than rain.

...An information centre will soon be ready at Huliyurdurga to impart training to groups from other parts of India.

...We could easily put the oil cake through digesters that would yield a rich fertiliser slurry, methane and drop costs further.

...Only in the west the accent has been on vegetable oils [which are far too valuable in India's kitchens] to run automobiles. Dr.Shrinivasa's thrust on the other hand, has been to use non-edible oils to ignite a process of rural enrichment.

...They are cheap and renewable, they disperse profits, are safe to store [due to a high flash point], need nothing new to be invented to run engines, are kinder on the engines, have a long shelf life, are biodegradable, release no more carbon di oxide than the trees originally consumed and have cooler, clearer exhausts. And to the delight of many investigators the exhaust from an engine on biodiesel "smells of pop corn and french fries!"

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