While D.C. fat cats here in the land of the free bluster on about the political bandwagon that is ethanol, several organizations in India actually seems to be doing real work on the subject of renewable fuels. Instead of playing into the hands of the "ethanol has super potential" crowd, the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), is working with some fungi and a plant called the Jatropha curcas to develop a self sustaining biodiesel industry. The best part? If you eat one of the nuts from the plant, you feel ill, two, and you may blow chunks, and four you may die... cool. Oh and it also produces oil that can be readily modified into fuel oil with heating energy of up to 26400 kwh/ha (which comes out to about the energy equivalent of 252 gallons of petroleum diesel per acre). Yowza. Scientist Alok Adholeya (snicker) and others at TERI spent five years...
working to find symbiotic fungi that allows the plant to grow in toxic and generally crappy soil. In the process they've refined the strains and boosted normal yields by 15%. Currently they've got about 2400 acres of land growing this magical plant and are hoping to have eight times that by 2008, with a processing and production facility to boot. The goal is around twenty three million gallons annually, which is a tiny fraction of consumption here in the US, but promising no less considering the time line and the backwards compatibility with existing engines. So successful have these efforts been that the Indian government is considering pushing a national initiative around the project, tossing around wild suggestions of a million acres of planted Jatropha.
So it seems the gauntlet has been thrown down. I know it's terribly cliche to talk about energy independence these days, and often like pissing into the wind, but you can't help but wonder about it. Anyone with an engineering degree will tell you that thermodynamically, ethanol is a losing game. Knowing that, will America go down a road to sustainability, or continue to offer midwestern farmers a corn based reach around? .
India's Big Plans for Biodiesel[Technology Review]
Environmental Screed Unintentionally Endorses Petroleum [internal]