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Mysore firm clones Jatropha to make bio-diesel
     
Thursday, July 21, 2005 - www.HindustanTimes.com

 A Mysore-based firm has tied up with a British oil firm to commercially exploit and clone the Jatropha plant to produce bio-diesel.

Labland Biotech has announced plans to produce 10 million jatropha plants, which grows in dry tracts, as an economically viable substitute for diesel. Last year, the Indian government had announced that the country will introduce bio-diesel, a mix of gasoline and 20 percent plant oil by 2012. Researchers say that jatropha seeds contain about 45-58 percent of oil, 30-35 percent of which can be extracted in a dry expeller.

Scientist say that mass production is also feasible as jatropha is an easy growing palnt and can be grown even on wasteland.

According to Sudheer A Shetty, Managing Director of Labland Biotech, part of the Rs. 60 crore (over 13.3 million dollars) agreement with Britain's DI Oils, is to promote the cloned plants globally.

"They have selected the best yielding varieties, the best yielding lines of jatropha. Now what they want is billions and billions to be promoted everywhere. They want this in Philippines, they want it in Indonesia, in Saudi Arabia, in Malaysia, India, Africa. But where is the planting material. They have selected clones, best yielding, so that is possible only through the application of tissue culture. So for that purpose they have approached us," he said.

The extraction process is simple and cost effective. Over 250 litres of bio-diesel can be produced in a day using simply a heater, a stirrer, a container and two water tanks.

The jatropha plant has also been found to reduce the CO2 content in the atmosphere and the new bio-diesel would be environment friendly and help bring down pollution levels.

According to Geetha Singh, Executive Director of Labland Biotechs, the tissue culture cloning of jatropha without any genetic engineering was a breakthrough.

"We choose a small bit of tissue that has a great potential to respond in the culture. Such tissue is taken, sterilized, to make it free of micro organisms and then cultured in artificial medium where 40 chemicals are added with growth hormones that are required for the plants to grow very efficiently. From that tissue, an entire plant is regenerated and made to proliferate to the required number and this requirement of planting material is so high that this is one best alternative which can be effectively used," she said. 

A substantial amount of India's GDP is earmarked for the import of crude oil and petroleum based products. Diesel accounts for about 40 percent of the refined products sold in India. India imports 70 percent of its crude oil requirements for its 17 refineries that can process 2.3 million barrels per day.

Jatropha, also known as the Physic Nut, plant which may hold such promise. Able to tolerate arid climates, rapidly growing, useful for a variety of products, Jatropha can yield up to two tons of bio-diesel fuel per year per hectare. Put another way, Jatropha can yield about 1,000 barrels of oil per year per square mile. In such quantities, Jatropha, like bio-fuels in general, cannot become a replacement for oil. But Jatropha requires minimal inputs, stabilizes or even reverses desertification, and has use for a variety of products after the bio-fuel is extracted. Moreover, diesel fuel with bio-diesel additives causes far less pollution.

Bio-fuel is not the ultimate solution to the energy challenges facing India or the world. But it is part of the solution, especially when it not only stretches finite supplies of conventional fuel, but restores the land it grows on, does not displace more viable agricultural land, and requires minimal water inputs. 

According to RPS Katwal, Director General of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, the Union government had drawn up a blueprint to plant Jatropha trees on 50,000 hectares at a cost of Rs 1,430,000.

"Biofuels are gaining importance in the light of increasing energy demand, especially fossil fuels which are non-renewable. Biofuels are renewable, biodegradable, non-hazardous and safer for air, water and soil and its use reduces the emission of greenhouse gases," Katwal claims.

Labland Biotechs, a Private Limited Company floated in the year 1994, is a global player in the field of Plant Biotechnology, with a fully equipped laboratory at Mysore, South India.

Labland has customer base in the homeland - India, and in Europe, North America, Middle East, Sri Lanka, Japan and South East Asia.

Labland is emerging as one of India's few Companies possessing the high-tech know-how for plant propagation through tissue culture on a vast scale, and for improving and evolving new varieties of Horticultural crops, Plantation crops, Medicinal plants, Foliages and Ornamentals. Since tissue culture is a branch of modern Biotechnology, the Company has amalgamated the traditional skills of mass propagating the plants with modern scientific tools.

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