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FAIL! – India’s Hyped Jatropha Biodiesel Program Does Not Deliver.

In Environment, India, Politics, Renewable Energy, Science on May 15, 2009 at 8:26 am
Credit:Prashanth Vishwanathan/ Reuters

Credit:Prashanth Vishwanathan/ Reuters

In 2005, the seed of the Jatropha Curcas tree, the miracle biofuel plant native to Central America, was supposed to be the panacea for India’s energy needs. Fast forward four years and the results are in – Fail!

Less than half of the 290 million Jatropha saplings on 3.9 million acres have survived. $332 million dollars have been invested. Reports of cattle poisoned from eating the leaves, and impact on farmers forced to replace food crop with Jatropha crops is still being ‘assessed.’

Prof R. R. Shah told the National, ““There is no yield,” he says. “The literature said that with dry land, after four years’ growth, you can get a yield of 1kg per plant. For us, it is hardly 200g per plant.” The other discovery being that Jatropha needs fertilizer, water and good management, just like any other biofuel plant. The result is it is three times more expensive than crude oil.

These were the promises – it would grow on ‘wastelands’, was drought resistant so didn’t need too much water, and wouldn’t need pesticides or fertilizers like food crops. It would become a reliable source of income for India’s poor rural farmers, providing energy self-sufficiency, while reducing fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions The effort was cheerled by none other than Dr. Abdul Kalam, India’s former President who claimed in 2006 that over 30 million hectares of Indian wasteland would be suitable for Jatropha growth.

Many are questioning the logic of such widescale implementation without better studies. As the specter of more vehicles and energy consumption looms over India and the world, an alternative fuel solution must be found. Its left to be seen whether the Pongamia Tree, native to India, will deliver better results.

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