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Analysis Promising Biodiesel Crop needs Time To Prove Itself

Posted by Lindy on October 30, 2011


http://planetark.org/wen/63724

Date: 28-Oct-11; From article by  Nina Chestney

There is new hope for biodeisal from a little known tree, the pongamia pinnata tree. It will not reduce food production as it grows on poor land but much more research is needed before we can be sure it will work.

Pongamia pinnata is native to Australia, India and parts of southeast Asia. Its oil has so far been used in medicines, lubricants and oil lamps. Pongamia is attractive because, after six years of cultivation, its oil yield is estimated to rise to around 23 tonnes per hectare per year — almost double yields of 12 tonnes from jatropha (see below), another tree that is a biodiesel feed crop, and 11 tonnes from palm oil.

But the optimism is cautious as prior experience with jatropha shows that what looks like a promising crop may prove disappointing. A few years ago, jatropha was hailed as a biofuel alternative to fossil fuels that would not further impoverish developing countries by diverting resources away from food production. Its high oil yield and ability to grow on marginal land were attractive, but its commercial promise was overstated. Some farmers found that it needed fertilizer to thrive and that its harvesting and processing proved energy-intensive.

However, the evergreen pongamia can grow on marginal arid or semi-arid land and is a nitrogen-fixing tree, which means that it helps fertilize the soil, is promising.

POTENTIAL?

While several large organisations have already planted trees in unused areas of Australia and India, it also believed that there is a role for small scale production.  India has recognized the potential for small-holders to grow the tree on marginal land and has encouraged them to plant around 25 million trees since 2003 and has bought the seed pods for processing into biodiesel.

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