Dr. Sudheer A. Shetty was invited...
Our First Customer, Mr. Sripad Naik, writes...
 
  "Meeting the Challenges of Successful Jatropha Plantation - The Role of Plant Tissue Culture and Biotechnology".

Dr. Sudheer A. Shetty
Managing Director
Labland Biotech Private Limited
Plant Tissue Culture and Biofuel Division
8th K.M., K.R.S. Main Road, Mysore 570 016, India
E-mail: info@lablandbiotechs.com  

 

With the escalating crude oil prices, the race for new energy sources - from wind farms to energy plantations - is heating up. Biodiesel is emerging as an obvious alternate fuel to high-speed diesel (HSD) world over. This upsurge in interest on biodiesel has resulted in the emergence of Jatropha curcas L. as a favored renewable source among the many contenders in the race for cultivation. Millions of hectares are being considered for planting with Jatropha curcas to obtain oil from its seeds for which billions of seeds/seedlings are required for planting. 

The International Energy Outlook 2005 projects strong growth for worldwide energy demand over the 23-year projection period from 2002 to 2025. Total world consumption of marketed energy is expected to show a 57% increase over the 2002 to 2025 time period. 

Currently, India's diesel consumption share is about 50 million tonnes a year. With a minimum of 2.5 tonnes of oil obtained from a hectare of Jatropha curcas plantation, we in India need to grow Jatropha curcas in an area of about one million hectares to get 2.5 million tonnes oil for 5% biodiesel blending with the HSD. Since 2,500 seedlings are required to raise a one-hectare plantation, the current demand in India alone is one billion seedlings. Which will increase 4- folds by the year 2010 to enable blending HSD with 20% green fuel.

Such a demand for planting material offers a challenge, which has to be met with utmost care to ensure quality of not only good seed yield but high oil content as well. This can be achieved by adopting field selection, plant breeding, pure line selection, hybrid seed development, tissue culture and genetic engineering. Besides, detailed studies have to be made on the occurrence of different diseases and their management. Unless these aspects are immediately attended to, the entire Jatropha plantation can become a patch of weeds.

Plant tissue culture and biotechnology play a cardinal role in developing uniformly high seed yielding and high oil bearing clones of Jatropha curcas. These elite clones possessing characteristic features have to be selected, micro propagated in millions under controlled conditions in the tissue culture laboratory, acclimatized in the greenhouse, grown to a normal size in the secondary nursery under poly house conditions and supplied to the growers, after proper screening for quality. This biotech process ensures uniform growth of plants with consistent performance in mass cultivation of Jatropha. 

Let us not grow weeds; let us cultivate energy crops. Let us provide quality-planting materials to the planters to instill their confidence and to give economically viable plantations. Let us be the proud/dependable partners of successful, sustainable rural development program that forms the critical link in the supply chain for biodiesel production.

It is equally important to find a market for oil cake and glycerin so that the cash flow to the grower becomes attractive. Similarly, the strategy to provide carbon credit to Jatropha plantation needs to be considered seriously as an additional income. In view of the large-scale movement of seeds at the national and international levels, a suitable seed certification criterion has to be put in place. Other aspects envisaged for successful production of micro-oil wells - the Jatropha curcas plants -- are presented in the paper.

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