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IS4D: Energy

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NAEF: Biodiesel: A guide for policy maker and enthusiasts




Biodiesel is a cleaner burning alternative fuel produced from renewable vegetable oil resources such as soy beans, palm and waste vegetable oil (cooking oil) or any other source of organic oil (animal fat). Biodiesel is suitable for modern, high performance diesel engines. Biodiesel contains no petroleum product but can be blended with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. This type of fuel is gaining popularity not only due to its environmental advantages but also because of how easy it is to use as it can be used in current compression-ignition (diesel) engines with little or no modifications. Biodiesel is not only easy to use; it is biodegradable, nontoxic and free of sulfur and aromatics. Replacing conventional diesel with biodiesel in engines results in considerable reduction of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. Moreover, with flash point over 260˚F (127 ˚C), biodiesel is safer to handle and to store than petroleum based diesel fuel, which has a flashpoint of around 125˚F (52˚C). Biodiesel is defined as the mono-alkyl esters of fatty acids derived from vegetable oils or animal fats. In more general terms, biodiesel is the product you get when a vegetable oil or animal fat is chemically reacted with an alcohol to produce a new compound that is known as a fatty acid alkyl ester. A catalyst such as sodium or potassium hydroxide is required. Glycerol (glycerin) is produced as a byproduct. The process is known as transesterification.


Soybean oil and methanol are the most popular feedstock in the United States. Soybeans are a major U.S. crop and government subsidies/reduced taxes are available to make the fuel economically attractive to consumers who need or want to use a non-petroleum based fuel. In Europe, most biodiesel is made from
rapeseed (Brassica napus) oil and methanol and it is known as rapeseed methyl esters (RME).


Advantages of Biodiesel


Biodiesel has some clear advantages over SVO: it works in any diesel, without any conversion or modifications to the engine or the fuel system -- just put it in and go. It also has better cold-weather properties than SVO (but not as good as petro-diesel). Unlike SVO, it's backed by many long-term tests in many countries, including millions of miles on the road. It has as well many advantages over petro-diesel.


  • Biodiesel substantially reduces unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter in exhaust fumes
  • Sulphur dioxide emissions are eliminated (biodiesel contains no sulphur)
  • Biodiesel is plant-based and adds no CO2 to the atmosphere. As a sustainable energy source it merely recycles carbon, with the help of the sun and photosynthesis.
  • The ozone-forming potential of biodiesel emissions is nearly 50% less than conventional diesel fuel
  • Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions could slightly increase but can be reduced to well below conventional diesel fuel levels by adjusting engine timing and other means
  • Biodiesel can be used in any diesel engine
  • Fuel economy is about the same as conventional diesel fuel
  • Biodiesel has a high cetane rating, which improves engine performance: 20% biodiesel added to conventional diesel fuel improves the cetane rating 3 points, making it a Premium fuel
  • Biodiesel can be mixed with ordinary petroleum diesel fuel in any proportion, with no need for a mixing additive.
  • Even a small amount of biodiesel means cleaner emissions and better engine lubrication
  • Biodiesel can be produced from any fat or vegetable oil, including waste cooking oil.


See the US National Biodiesel Board's complete evaluation of biodiesel emissions and potential health effects at  http://www.biodiesel.org/pdf_files/fuelfactsheets/emissions.pdf


The process of making biodiesel


Biodiesel can be made following various but similar processes. A simple process is to use vegetable oil, methanol and sodium hydroxide.  Again in general terms vegetable and animal fats and oils are triglycerides, containing glycerine. The biodiesel process turns the oils and fats into esters, separating out the glycerine. The glycerine sinks to the bottom and the biodiesel floats on top and can be syphoned off.  The process is called transesterification, which substitutes alcohol for the glycerine in a chemical reaction, using a catalyst. The result is usually a 90% biodiesel and 10% glycerine.


In Short -

  • The oil is heated to about 50 degrees Centigrade.
  • In a separate container you slowly (to prevent unstable reaction/heating) mix the methanol and the sodium hydroxide (NaOH).
  • Next this solution is added (again slowly) to the heated oil and mixed and is then allowed to settle.
  • By gravitation the glycerol will settle at the bottom of the tank and above you will have the biodiesel.


Jatropha curcus L. (Physic nut)


The main “ingredient” to produce biodiesel is organic oil either vegetable or animal (fat). Vegetable fats and oils are substances derived from plants that are composed of triglycerides. Nominally, oils are liquid at room temperature, and fats are solid. Although many different parts of plants may yield oil, in actual commercial practice oil is extracted primarily from the seeds of oilseed plants. There are many types of commercial and wild plants that can produce oil (oil plant) depending on the specific region. Jatropha curcus, castor, pongamia pinnata (Indian beech tree), rapeseed, sunflower, palm tree, etc… Jatropha curcus have been the choice in many countries while Indonesia and Malaysia prefers mainly palm trees. The genus Jatropha belongs to genus  Joannesieae of Crotonoideae in the Euphorbiaceae family and contains approximately 170 known species. According to Correll and Correll (1982) and Heller (1994), curcas is the common name for physic nut in Malabar, India.  

The physic nut is a drought-resistant species which is widely spread by the Portuguese in colonial times and is currently cultivated throughout the tropics as a living fence.  Many parts of the plants are used in traditional medicine.  The seeds, however, are toxic to humans and many animals.  Considerable amounts of physic nut seeds were produced on Cape Verde during the first half of this century, and this constituted an important contribution to the country’s economy.  Seeds were exported to Lisbon and Marseille for oil extraction and soap production.  Today’s global production is, however, negligible.


It grows on well-drained soils with good aeration and is well adapted to marginal soils with low nutrient content. In heavy soils, root formation is reduced.  Physic nut is a highly adaptable species, but its strength as a crop comes from its ability to grow on poor, dry sites.


Jatropha Properties

Jatropha Curcas is Predominately a Bio Diesel crop, as well as having pharmaceutical and industrial values.  

  • 3Kg(6.6lb) Jatropha seed will yield 1 litre of Bio Diesel
  • Jatropha Curcas prefers temperatures averaging 20 - 28degrees C
  • Recommended planting rates are 2,500 plants /Hectare
  • Jatropha Curcas will produce a small crop after 2 years and reach full production at 5 years
  • Jatropha Curcas will grow for 50 years and bear seed for up to 40 years
    • There is approximately 1000 seeds per kilogram
    • Contains 34-36% oil content
    • Dried seeds should have 7-8% moisture content


Jatropha Advantages

Planning Commission of India has nominated it as ideal plant for biodiesel and the Government of India has selected the plant for National Program compared to others, due to following reasons:

  • Low cost seeds
  • High oil content
  • Small gestation period
  • Growth on good and degraded soil
  • Growth in low and high rainfall areas
  • Seeds can be harvested in non-rainy season
  • Plant size is making collection of seeds more convenient
  • Income generation from previously Unusable areas
  • Provide huge opportunities from new sustainable and renewable land resources
  • And crops Creating employment Nursery development, soil preparation, irrigation systems, Plantation maintenance, seed collection


Pradhan: Biofuels and Its Implications on Food Security, Climate Change and Energy Security - A Case Study of Nepal



Executive Summary


Some  of  the  biggest  challenges  the  world  is  facing  today  are  climate  change  and  energy insecurity. The situation of a warming planet, further exacerbated by the use of fossil fuels, and the fluctuating prices of fuel have led us to search for alternative sources of fuel. The production of biofuels raised hopes  around the world  as  a solution to mitigate  climate  change  and  ensure energy  security.  The  debate  on  whether  biofuels  fulfill  such  promises  is  both  active  and evolving; with links being drawn between the global food crisis of 2008 and biofuel production, the discourse has taken a different turn. The global food crisis is said to have pushed back developing countries further towards poverty. While  advanced  economies  are  investing  heavily  in  biofuel  production,  international research institutes  are  still  ringing  words  of  caution.  This  has  left  many,  particularly  in  developing countries, unsure about pursuing biofuels as an alternative source of energy.


Hence,  it  is  important  to  examine  trade-offs  associated  with  biofuels  before  making  any recommendations on biofuels. Biofuels can potentially contribute to mitigating climate change, increasing  employment  opportunities,  providing  access  to  energy,  and  improving  indoor pollution  associated with firewood use, thereby improving population health in rural  areas. At the  same  time,  food  security  and  water  security  may  be  negatively  affected  by  biofuel production.  The  trade-offs  among  environment,  energy  access,  employment  creation,  health, food security, and water security present complex and challenging questions.


Adding to this complexity is the fact that biofuels are not the sole cause of the global food crisis. The rising food prices were  also  a result of 1) reduction of production  capacity in developing countries,  2)  population  and  income  growth  in  emerging  economies  and  associated  dietary changes, 3) the surge in oil prices in 2008, which drove up prices of fertilizers and fuels, and 4) unfavorable weather in key producing countries, among others (ADB, 2008; Timmer, 2008).

The fact is without  access to  energy,  production  capacity in  developing  countries is  bound to remain stagnant, if not fall even further, as the availability of agricultural land is not increasing. Secondly, population growth in emerging economies will put further pressure on energy security and energy demand will increase. Thirdly, as oil prices rise, food prices will rise. Fourthly, the current  pace  of  emissions  could multiply  destructive  climate  events,  negatively  affecting  crop yields  and thus  increasing  food  prices  further. 

Hence,  if  energy  security,  environment,  and employment generation are sacrificed at the cost of saving food security, we may not be helping food security in the long run. The trade-offs are also country-specific. For a country that has a large segment of its population living in  extreme  poverty,  food  security  remains  one  of  the  top  priorities.  However,  if  that country is also seriously energy insecure, especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and  has stagnant  agricultural  productivity, then the  question  of trade-offs  becomes  even more difficult  to  answer.  This  is  the  case  of  Nepal,  a  developing  country  in  South  Asia,  a  region particularly vulnerable to climate change.


The solution to the problem of energy scarcity is to become more efficient in our use of energy. The  efficiency  in  energy  use  can  be  achieved  in  advanced  economies  through  mass  transit systems  and  energy-efficient  appliances.  In  developing  countries,  the  need  still  remains  in providing  affordable, reliable,  and  accessible  energy  through  diverse sources. It  is  critical for developing countries to diversify their fuel options such as kerosene, biogas, solar, and electricity for household sector and liquid biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel in the transport sector. Biofuels  can  play  an  important  role  in  supplying  energy  in  rural  sector  without  negatively affecting  food  security  and  the  environment.  The  key  is  to  distinguish  between  large-scale biofuel production that diverts water, labor, land, and food crops like maize and sugarcane away from food  to fuel  and small  to medium-scale  local  biofuel  production for  local  energy  needs using non-food crops, marginalized land, and underutilized labor.

Given the lack of roads in rural areas, biofuel production carried out in small-scale in rural areas may be a better option than large-scale production. Jatropha oil expellers are simple, affordable, and portable, making it suitable to meet the  energy needs of  a small rural  community. Where national  electric  lines  cannot  reach  due  to  the  difficult  mountain  terrain  and  lack  of  proper infrastructures, local biofuel production may provide some hope in reaching these communities.




Biofuels should  not  be taken  as  a solution to  energy insecurity and  global warming; it is that given proper policy space and coordinated policies biofuel production may contribute to meeting some of these challenges. In Nepal, the Alternative Energy Promotion Center under the Ministry of  Environment,  Science  and  Technology  (MoEST)  is  responsible  for  biofuel  policies.  The recommendations are directed towards them:


1. Formation of a Biodiesel Board
Given  the  lack  of  coordination  among  the  different  government  bodies  regarding  biofuel policies, a Biodiesel Board should be formed. Instead of closed-door policy formulation, AEPC should promote transparency and public debate by publishing its reports and policy drafts.

2. Pro- Food Security Approach
Assigning Wasteland for Growing Energy Crops

AEPC  should  work  with  the Ministry  of  Agriculture  in  identifying  wasteland  for  biofuel production  and seek support from  district- and  village  level government  entities  in  collecting information regarding land use. Army and police barracks can be involved as well, as they have manpower, technical expertise, and land needed for biofuel programs.


A Community-based Biofuel Production
Community members should  be  included  in  planning  and  implementation  of  biofuel  projects. Also,  district  and  village-level  government  entities should  be  involved  in  the  monitoring  and evaluation process.


Growing Non-edible Energy Crops
The scope of crop use should be limited to non-food crops until more research is done in the food versus fuel debate. AEPC should propose banning the use of food crops for biofuel production to the Ministry of Agriculture.


3. Private Investments

The scope of land use and crop use policy should be limited to wasteland and non-edible crops. Large-scale production proposals should go through the Biodiesel Board. If the Board cannot act in such a capacity immediately, the government should place restriction on private investments until such an evaluation mechanism can be created.  


4. Investing in Research and Development
Some biofuel production experiments had been conducted by scientists at RECAST in the early 1980s but very little has happened since then. AEPC should partner with universities  at home and abroad and building public-private partnerships that would allow shared investments.

5. Awareness Programs and Trainings
Many  even in the biofuel sector  are unaware of successes  and failures of  biofuel programs in Nepal  and  around  the  world. By  compiling  project  updates  and  creating  either  newsletters  or putting it on the AEPC website, knowledge can be shared and best practices learned.



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