ibnlive » Tech

Jul 04, 2008 at 08:15pm IST

Common weed may become fuel of future

New Delhi: At least four states, the Army and the Railways have pinned their hopes for a clean, efficient alternate fuel on a common weed: Jatropha.

The Army has planted Jatropha in 300 hectares to conduct key tests and uses oil from the plant’s seed as bio-diesel to power its tanks. The fuel mix comprises 80 per cent diesel and 20 per cent Jatropha oil. The Army is keen on Jatropha because it believes in case of war the first casualty will be import of petroleum products.

“Energy security is the country's security and so we're taking no chances,” says Zakwan Ahmed, Director of the Defence Agriculture Research Lab.

The Railways is testing the weed on its land and Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, and Gujarat are subsidizing the plantation of this alternate fuel on non-agricultural land. Jatropha has got farmers keen too, as it means a new source of income and can be planted in arid land.

Bua Ditta, a farmer in Jammu, plans to make a neat profit by planting Jatropha in his arid land. “There are no rains in this area and our crops used to go waste. We would put in a lot of effort but there were no results. I planted Jatropa five years ago on the same land and it grew well. The plant is bearing fruit after almost after five years and I am hopeful that it will bring in profits,” says Ditta.

There are now several hundred hectares of Jartopha plantations across the country without any government push, policy or subsidies. Reena Singh, of the research group the The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), says that’s because Jatropha is a hardy species and can grow on wasteland.

Environmentalists though warn it’s early days for Jatropha. “The problem is one that people often talk about wasteland but for ecologists there is no wasteland. All lands serves usefully ecological function,” says environmentalist Lester Brown.

Jatropha is greener than diesel and experts say it has the potential to cut down 80 per cent of the carbon emissions from vehicles but time will tell if this wonder weed will replace costly conventional fuel and fire India's transport.