Southern and coastal AP have swung into action. Chittoor, Vijayanagaram, Vishakapatnam, Prakasam Srikakulam are all names that are lighting up on the SVO map. Members of the VELUGU self-help scheme have coined a slogan : "mana noone, mana vidyut" [My seeds, my electricity]. Under the Karnataka Watershed Development Agency [KAWAD] 10 oil mills run by women SHG have come up. They are in Bijapur, Bellary and Chitradurga districts of Karnataka. They cost Rs.350,000 each and generate revenue of Rs.600 to Rs.800 a day, out of which the SHG pay back the loans. Dr Vidya Swamy at SuTRA, Bangalore is systematically developing best nursery parctices and trying out ways to train grafted trees into short bushes. She also reaches out to women SHGs and explains profitable rural technologies so that with SVO at the centre, an integrated plan can develop.
In under five years of Prof Shrinivasa demonstrating the concept, the idea has begun to deliver results and make hard economic sense. It has probably had the fastest run from lab to land for any idea in India. Indian Railways is moving ahead to use SVO as a blend with diesel. It is India's largest consumer of diesel; so it makes sense for them to look at SVO. The Government has woken up to the potential and there is talk that the Prime Minister is also smitten by it. Prof. Shrinivasa is the convener of the committee set up to draft a National Biodiesel Policy. The venerable BBC came calling recently to record this emerging success story.
SVO, biodiesels, biofuels etc
The Ghond tribe we met in the main story are using straight vegetable oil or SVO. This is oil milled, nominally filtered and used straight in an engine. A purist would be offended by the use of the term 'biodiesel' for this. But it is early days yet in India and 'biodiesel' is a rather evocative name that catches attention. But let us get some facts laid out.
In a warm country like India, use of SVO in applications like gensets will cause no harm. In critical applications like running jeeps, tractors etc however it may be wise to use a two tank system, as briefly described in the article.
In the West, the scene is quite different. The weather is often cold, cooking oil is thrown away after one use and vehicles are over-powered. Biodiesels address all the three situations. Making biodiesel is no rocket science. Many make them at home and the process -- called 'transesterification' -- removes many components from the SVO and renders them a "methyl ester". For those with more interest in the arcana of biodiesel chemistry, the two good pages to visit are at veggievan.org and journeytoforever.org.
Remember however that both SVO and biodiesels are pure renewable fuels. A day may come in India too -- when the SVO idea has caught on -- when small rural businesses will come up offering technically true 'biodiesels' for say, high way trucks.
Returning now to SVO, there are about 20 species of trees whose seeds will yield acceptable SVO. Of these, Pongamia has many advantages and these are described in GoodNewsIndia's earlier story on the same subject. Neem oil too will do well as an SVO but it is more valuable as a pesticde and sells for about Rs.50 a litre. Mahua is good as well but it is cooking grade and in India that is priority use. Jatropha [-- or Ratanjyot in Hindi] is emerging as a popular SVO now. It is a shrub that begins to yield in 6 months though its life is only 15 years. But Jatropha oil is lighter than Pongamia oil and in Erode, Tamil Nadu one gentleman at least rides his diesel Bullet motorcycle fed entirely on Jatropha oil.