In USA, EU there is an ethanol boom!
India yet to have a clear policy!

There is now an European ethonal boom, in the USA there are pro-active farmers involvement in setting up biodiesel plants .Germany, is the leader, France, Spain (the firm name is Abengoa) and many countries are in active production. EU’s first maize-based plant is set up in Southern France. If oil prices reach 70 dollars a barrel reach, then, the biodiesel projects would become economically viable proposition.

The world markets or the ground realities of cultivating jatropha or other biodiesel crops. If petroleum prices rise, then the world wakes up! Not otherwise. We don’t know what is the knowledge of the petroleum minister or his plans for ensuring energy security. As an intelligent man, the minister must be knowing things. But the fact is that he hasn’t made himself known. Known to farmers and others engaged in the alternative fuels market.

A recent special feature in The Economist magazine gives in one place the latest and very interesting statistics. Of course, its point of view is from the American economy and to some extent the European Union. So, we in India have to make our own judgements.
Now, the world leader in ethanol based on sugarcane is Brazil.American output of maize-based ethanol is rising 30 % a year. China has already built the world’s largest ethanol plant and plans another as big as Germany, the biggest producer of biodiesels. Germany is raising its capacity by 40-50% a year. France is aiming to triple the fuel output by 2007. UK seems a small player. Canadian firm plans for a full-scale ethonal plant that will replace today’s grain or sugar feedstock with straw. Canada has a vast scope for cultivating the needed feedstock and yet its output now is tiny compared with mineral fuels.

America is very much in the biodiesel market in a big way. The production methods of ethanol are changing rapidly, new fuels are very much growing in a faster way. An engine that Rudolf Diesel, the original discoverer whose name is given to the product, who showed in 1900 at the World Exhibition in Paris showed his engine can run on peanut oil. Now, any new raw material is coming up as a new potential source. Henry Ford was an early enthusiast of ethonal and he advocated crop-based ethanol in the 1920s. Now, there are so many versions of this blending, the most common today is 70-85% or 75-25%, the flexible oils are the norm today. Already America has such biodiesel driven cars numbering something like 4 million cars. They are multiplying, so too the pumps and gaskets technology to suit the new blends of ethanol. The oil companies were first hesitant, to sell rival fuels, but now seeing the scene changing so fast, the oil companies may themselves set up ethanol making plants. The biofuels market seems quite big now. 8 billion gallons are now produced in the USA. Though the total motor fuel use exceeds already 175 billion gallons, a peanut the present biodiesel production looks like, in spite of we hearing so much noise on alternative fuels. The cars market is one thing. The farm equipment is another market that is estimated to demand quite a lot of biodiesel. American output of biodiesel, last year, was 30 billion gallons, consumption was 36 billion gallons.

There are American states that have passed laws to make it mandatory to use certain use of this fuel. Minnesota is the E85 fuel consumption capital of America. In America there is intense biodiesel production entrepreneurs and there is so much happening today. By late 2005 the American ethonal capacity may hit 4.4 billion gallons a year, against 3.4 billion gallons in 2004. There are 84 existing plants, 26 new plants are in the pipeline and new projects galore. And while one big grain firm, ADM, used to dominate the American biodiesel making industry. Many other biodiesel projects are promoted or backed by local farmers. We are not told clearly how the farmers involvement in biodiesel projects is helping to process the corn grown by these farmers. In Missouri state of America, 730 farmers had invested 24 million dollars needed for a 50-million tonne capacity biodiesel making corn processing plant. State governments in the USA aid such farmers promoted plants. Cargill a grains and oilseeds giant is helping some investors with setting up these plants. In Scotland, in England (at Teeside) there are two plants. Forum Oil in Helsinki is setting up a big plant. Missouri gives producers 20 cents a gallon as subsidy. There is a biodiesel research centre, there are tax breaks.

Biodiesel should not fall a victim of wishy-washy one more green issue. It is a worthwhile, alternative farm business issue and should be looked at one more new opportunity for agriculture diversification. As the Economist concludes “in the end it is the market-producers, intermediaries and consumers-that will decide. In India we need some pro-active promotion policies. This is not in sight in India. As insiders we know this is the Indian curse. Create any promotion body, be it National Horticulture Board or National Medicinal Crops Board. Once they settle down get their budgets, they spend the money left and right, then after a few years they become a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. They exist only for themselves! These agri/horti/medicinal crops promotion bodies don’t even bother to part with any latest information! Now, with the Information Bill, is there any optimism, this time, we would get latest information in the agri sector! Let optimists raise their hands!

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