A Spanish/Latin American blogger friend of mine has a blog dedicated to alternate fuels called Jatrophaonline. He invited me to share links and posts about alternate energy sources. I am delighted to join him in his mission to write blog posts about alternate fuels. This post is the first one in a series dedicated to alternate sources of energy.
The prime sources of bio-fuel are bio-ethanol extracted from molasses used in Spark Ignition engines that use petrol/gasoline as fuel and bio-diesel extracted from Jatropha curcas used in Compression Ignition engines that use high speed diesel as fuel. There are many other promising and sustainable sources from which bio-fuels can be extracted. One of them is the Pongamia pinnata tree.
Flowers of the Pongamia pinnata . . .
Pongamia pinnata is the binomial name for a tree that one may have come across daily, especially if you live in South India. It is known by many common names but let us use the genus name Pongamia for ease of understanding. This tree is a part of folklore in South India. According to South Indian lore, if you have a Pongamia tree in your backyard and sit under it every day, you will receive the nourishment and vitality you need to overcome problems caused by extremes of wind, water, or fire. This bit of folklore may prove to be prophetic. The Pongamia tree has the potential for transforming the struggling villages of today into tomorrow’s havens of prosperity and tranquility, and at the same time, restoring their rich heritage of rural self-sufficiency. I provide some more information about the Pongamia tree, its characteristics and the traditional uses of the tree. The information has been taken from Wikipedia.
Pongamia is a deciduous tree that grows to about 15-25 metres in height with a large canopy that spreads equally wide. The leaves are a soft, shiny burgundy in early summer and mature to a glossy, deep green as the season progresses. Small clusters of white, purple, and pink flowers blossom on their branches throughout the year, maturing into brown seed pods. The tree is well suited to intense heat and sunlight and its dense network of lateral roots and its thick, long taproot make it drought tolerant. The dense shade it provides slows the evaporation of surface water and its root structures promote nitrogen fixation, which moves nutrients from the air into the soil. Withstanding temperatures slightly below 0°C to 50°C and annual rainfall of 5–25 dm, the tree grows wild on sandy and rocky soils, including oolitic limestone, but will grow in most soil types, even with its roots in salt water.
Known by many names, it is a leguminous tree that’s well-adapted to arid zones and has many traditional uses. It is often used for landscaping purposes as a windbreak or for shade due to the large canopy and showy fragrant flowers. The bark can be used to make twine or rope and it also yields a black gum that is used to treat wounds caused by poisonous fish. The flowers are used by gardeners as compost for plants requiring rich nutrients. Although all parts of the plant are toxic and will induce nausea and vomiting if eaten, the fruits and sprouts, along with the seeds, are used in many traditional remedies. Juices from the plant, as well as the oil, are antiseptic and resistant to pests. In addition the Pongam tree has the rare property of producing seeds of 25-35% lipid content. The seed oil is an important asset of this tree having been used as lamp oil, in soap making, and as a lubricant for thousands of years. This oil is rapidly gaining popularity as an important source of fuel for diesel engines.
It is obvious from the above information that, like Jatropha curcas, Pongamia pinnata has a great potential to be used as a sustainable source of extracting bio-diesel. Pongamia does not have to be grown on agricultural land at all. It can be cultivated on a large scale in areas that are unfit for cultivating food crops. It can also be grown on the margins of roads and fields and in backyard gardens. This hardy tree not only provides shade from the harsh sun, but also has been used for so many other purposes traditionally. And with the rising global oil prices caused by peak oil demand and depleting mineral oil sources, trees like the Pongamia that were always there could find a new use.
Rudolf Diesel, the German engineer who invented the Compression Ignition engine that was named after him, actually designed his engine to run on vegetable oil and not mineral oil. Now, with mineral oil sources getting depleted at a fast rate, it looks like diesel engines will have to go back to the very oil that he used to run his first engine. I salute the great visionary, Rudolf Diesel, an engineer who was way ahead of his times.
Mother Nature always has an answer to our prayers! Our beautiful Earth has more than enough to satisfy the need of everyone but not enough to satisfy the greed of even a few!
You can download and read a wonderful article in pdf format called Seeds of Hope by Ishan Tigunait.