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Biotechnologists join hands to improve quality of bio-fuel
     
July 4, 2005 - The Hindu

With bio-diesel derived out of jatropha fast emerging as a viable and environment-friendly alternative to fossil fuel, industrial biotechnologists from the National Institute of Technology-Karnataka (NITK) will be working with plant biotechnologists from Labland Biotechs, a Mysore-based company, to enhance the quality of biofuel to the standard of commercial diesel.

Labland Biotechs is one of the largest suppliers of crude jatropha oil to international bio-diesel companies. The U.K.-based multinational bio-diesel giant, D1 Oils, recently entered into a long-term contract with Labland Biotechs to source 10,000 to 50,000 tonnes of crude jatropha oil a year to meet the growing demand for bio-diesel.

"NITK and Labland Biotechs not only decided to promote cultivation of jatropha 
along the seashore and interior parts of Dakshina Kannada but also carry out research and development activity to enhance the quality of jatropha-derived biodiesel to the standard of commercial diesel," the Professor and Chief Coordinator, Centre of Relevance and Excellence in Industrial Biotechnology, NITK, Gopal Mugeraya, told The Hindu.

Collaboration

"The collaboration is a marriage between industrial biotechnology and plant
biotechnology. The efforts of experts in plant biotechnology will
be complemented by experts in industrial biotechnology," he said.

In a press release, the Managing Director of Labland Biotechs, Sudheer A. Shetty, said NITK will carry out research on the scope for improvement in the extraction of crude from jatropha seeds and the refining of jatropha bio-diesel from the crude. NITK's expertise in industrial biotechnology will be employed in the exercise, he said.

Apart from taking up jatropha cultivation in an acre of land on the NITK campus at Suratkal as a "demonstration plot," NITK will open a Jatropha Information Dissemination Centre to create awareness among farmers about the crop. Workshops will be held on the campus for NGOs and gram panchayat leaders as part of the confidence building measures.

Sea erosion

In view of sea erosion reaching menacing proportions in the coastal areas during the monsoon, NITK and Labland Biotechs will jointly take up cultivation of jatropha along the seashore to arrest the phenomenon.

As jatropha can be grown even along the seashore, it will be cultivated at the 
NITK campus adjoining the seashore to study its effect on sea erosion, Dr. Shetty said.

But the focus of the study will be on improving the yield of crude from jatropha seed as well as the yield of refined jatropha bio-diesel from the crude.

The effort assumes significance in the wake of the increasing quest for bio-fuel to bring down not only the country's huge crude oil import bill, estimated to be around Rs.1,10,000 crores, but also to reduce the dependence on fossil fuel.

The Petroleum Conservation Research Association (PCRA) has already identified jatropha as the most suitable tree-borne oil seed for production of biodiesel.

Though PCRA has also called for the propagation of jatropha as a viable crop among farmers and as a viable fuel among vehicle -users, experts have expressed concern over the high cost of jatropha-derived bio-diesel.

Dr. Shetty said the research carried out by NITK aims at just that.

"If the yield of refined bio-diesel can be increased, the cost of bio-diesel will come down and can be made available to automobile users at a cost lower than the commercial diesel," he said.

At the meeting of the biotechnologists on Friday, NITK was represented
by Prof. Mugeraya and Dr. Sripathi while Labland Biotechs was represented by Dr. Shetty.

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