is the right solution
One evening in early 1999, Dr.Udipi Shrinivasa from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore was having teawith some locals in Kagganahalli village. He had for some years been investigating various strategies thatwould sustain continuous economic development of this semi - arid area."Oh there is nothing much here," a villager was saying. "No river, no wells, no electricity; just hundreds of Honge trees and tonnes of seeds. Not much use now. Our grandparents used the uneatable oil for lamps!"Dr.Shrinivasa perked up! Useless? If it can burn in lamps, it can surely run diesel engines. After all Rudolf Diesel used peanut oil to run the first ever diesel engine.
The adventure begins:
Back in the Institute, he quickly extracted some oil, poured it into an engine and started it. Of course it ran! Andran well too."It was a sobering moment," he says. "Here we were,- all scientists- looking at technical solutions likewindmills, gasifiers, solar panels and methane generators for rural India, and we had not made the obviousconnection with the potential of non-edible oils known from Vedic times as fuels."As he excitedly researched this 'bio-diesel' or 'eco-fuel', astonishing facts and scenarios came tumbling out.In the 1930s the British Institute of Standards, Calcutta had examined, over a 10 year period, a series of elevennon 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 Oilas technically a fit candidate to generate industrial-strength power.
The Cinderalla oil:
What happened then?War was over, oil fields were secure again, everyone got lazy and the petroleum industry got smart: it pumpedout and flooded the world with fuels, at times cheaper than the cost of water. Honge oil fell from favour andwaited like Cinderalla, for its prince charming. Even the rural Indian was moving away from rememberedtraditions: Kerosene had arrived in Indian villages.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 bythe Bombay commodities market is 1 million tonnes feeding mostly soap making and lubricants industries. InWarrangal, Andhra Pradesh, the Azamshahi Textile Mills, set up by the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1940, generatedall the power needs of the factory using non-edible oils until its recent closure; and it had surplus power leftover for the city's needs!However the Honge is a much ignored tree now. It grows on regardless, waiting for its virtues to be re-discovered. It is a hardy tree that mines water for its needs from 10 metre depths without competing with other crops. It grows all over the country, from the coastline to the hill slopes. It needs very little care and cattle donot browse it. It has a rich leathery evergreen foliage, that is a wonderful manure. From year-3 it yields podsand production is a mature average of 160kG per tree per year from year-10, through to its life of 100 years.