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`High coconut oil prices rule out biodiesel variant'

Vinson Kurian

Thiruvananthapuram , June 21

HIGH ruling prices of coconut oil discount the possibility of coconut-growing tracts in India replicating the Philippine example of implementing a groundbreaking biodiesel technology.

The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) has entered into an agreement with the UK-based D1 Oils for validating the latter's technology in a biodiesel project covering 35,000 hectares of coconut lands in the Bondoc peninsula of the island nation. This was expected to boost the country's coconut-based biodiesel industry, apart from helping it to reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol.

However, according to experts, domestic coconut oil prices would have to drop to a level of Rs 14 per kg or thereabouts for India to hope to benefit from any coconut biodiesel technology. The fact that coconut oil was available for cheap prices in the Philippines might have helped to a great extent, according to Dr Ajith Haridas, Head, Environmental Technology, at the Regional Research Laboratory - Thiruvananthapuram (RRL - T).

Vegetable oils did not sell for anything less than Rs 20 in India and continued to be much costlier than diesel, thus excluding themselves from being an affordable alternative. Palm oil might be cheaper in the countries of its origin, but the landed costs in India were high, which made it also an unviable option.

Even in the Philippines, the biodiesel project would see non-edible oil being added to the extent of 20 per cent to make it `economically attractive' and `sufficiently viable'. Jatropha and moringa trees would be grown on a large scale in the island nation to source the needed non-edible feedstock.

Dr Haridas was not convinced about the economics of employing jatropha in the biodiesel scheme of things. Various aspects such as the agronomy of the plantations, conversion of jatropha oil into biodiesel, testing of the biodiesel for chemical characteristics and engine performance and emission, utilisation of by-products and means to optimise income from such plantations would have be studied to determine if the investments made were justified.

Biodiesel generated from jatropha plants is said to contain less carbon dioxide emission, low sulphur and high oxygen contents, besides having lubricating properties. It can be used in normal diesel engines without any modifications.

The country is widely expected to introduce a five per cent blend of the biodiesel by 2005. The annual consumption of diesel oil has variously been estimated to be around 60 million tonnes, constituting some 40 per cent of the total petroleum product consumption.

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