Entrepreneurs go ga-ga over bio-diesel


Hyderabad: Bio-diesel, the new buzzword in the industry, is attracting much attention from entrepreneurs. Going by industry estimates, at least a dozen companies have ventured into extraction of bio-diesel.

But it will be some time before we can queue up at a plant fuel pump. The CEO of a biodiesel company said, "The market for bio-diesel is as big as that for diesel. But we have to check out its acceptability. The automobile industry has been depending on fossil fuels for ages. Converting it to natural gas has been a major task. To shift to bio-diesel would involve a herculean campaign."

Bio-diesel units primarily depend on the seeds of pongamia and jatropha. Though there are plantations of these trees in some areas, the output is not much. With the number of extraction units increasing, we are likely to find more such plantations soon.

"Pongamia and jatropha can be grown anywhere' except in cotton growing areas, where there is black soil. The plan is to encourage such plantations in rain-shadow areas and induce farmers to make use of dry and fallow lands," the secretary for rain-shadow area development, M G Gopal, said.

The state government is planning to bring two lakh acres under these plantations. "If the government provides the basic support to the industry and farmers, the state can take the lead in bio-diesel production," an industrialist said.

In addition to jatropha and pongamia seeds, bio-diesel companies are also examining the possibility of using other vegetable oils and non-edible oils as feed stock. "The price of bio-diesel is about Rs 24 per litre. Any automobile that can use diesel can use bio-diesel without having to make any changes in its engine. The mileage would be comparable to that obtained from fossil diesel. However, till now no efforts have been made to arrange for vending of bio-diesel. To ensure its regular supply the government should play an active role, making it mandatory for public-sector oil companies to sell bio-diesel in their vending stations," said another entrepreneur.

If such steps are followed, Andhra Pradesh would become the first state to supply bio-diesel commercially by April 2005.