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Pungamiya Bio Diesel FAQ

Q: Diesel Maram? What is that?
A: It is our own Pungai maram. We are calling it Diesel Maram because the oil from it can be used entirely or in a mixture for running diesel engines.

Q: Tell us a little more
A: Let us look at history a little. The diesel engine was invented by a
German called Rudolf Diesel in 1895. He ran his first engine on peanut oil [kadalennai]. In fact there was no oil called 'Diesel Oil' at that time. Later, America promoted petroleum and developed an oil suitable for this engine. And they called it Diesel Oil. In those days diesel oil was very cheap. Also, oil companies began to market diesel and petrol very well, making them available everywhere. People got lazy. Everyone forgot that ordinary vegetable oils can run the engine.

Q: Why are you calling Pungai maram, the Diesel maram?
A: In fact any oil that you can burn in a lamp can run a diesel engine-vilakkennnai, nallennai, veppennai, thengaiennai all can be used but they are all expensive or they have other valuable uses. We are promoting pungaiennai as it is not edible and is so far ignored by people. You may also be hearing of Jatropha and Kattamanakku. We are not promoting Jatropha because it is not native to India whereas Pungai is native and grows all over India. Kattamanakku is native to India but requires replanting every year whereas pungai, once taken care of for 5 years, lives and yields for 80 years.

Q: Has it been tried before?
A: During World War 2, when there were oil shortages researchers and industries in India investigated many natural oils and found them usable in diesel engines. Since the year 2000, Prof U Shrinivasa of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore has revived the idea and successfully implemented many projects. It is a mature proven idea.

Q: If so, why is it not being used widely?
A: There are two reasons. One, people are still ignorant or don't believe it is possible to replace diesel oils with natural oils. Two, there is not enough pungai oil available. We have to plant thousands of these trees and even that will be enough for our needs. Wherever it is available naturally, people are already using them to run generators and engines. Adivasis in the jungles of Andhra are generating electricity and running water pumps. Farmers near Bangalore are using it for agriculture. A factory in Dandeli generated most of its electricity needs a few years ago. Railways and road transport corporations have successfully used it in their vehicles. Governments are beginning to encourage their use. Many companies and organisations are planting many hundreds of acres with pongamia. One can use pongamia entirely or as a mixture with diesel in engines. Huge quantities are required for running all engines entirely on natural oils. So it is good for local communities to start planting for their needs in a big way.

Q: Can pungai oil be used directly in diesel engines?
A: Yes. After the oil is warmed and filtered twice, it is ready for use
directly. There is a small, low cost modification to be made. A small tank is added to carry a little diesel oil. The main tank will carry pungai oil. A small change-over valve is provided. The engine is started and stopped on diesel oil, but it runs on pungai oil. This is because pungail oil is thick and needs a warm engine for it to flow. The modification is very simple and can be done in a day. The engine is not harmed and requires no extra maintenance. In fact pungai ennai is smooth and helps to reduce wear and tear of the engine.

Q: Please list all the advantages?
A: There are benefits for everyone.
1- Diesel prices are going to rise steadily but natural diesel prices will be stable
2- Fishermen can increase their profits and panchayats can generate their own power and avoid EB bills
3- 75% of the seeds comes out as oil cake [punnakku] which is highly valued as manure. Currently it is sold at Rs.4 per kilo. The balance 25% is oil
4- There is no pollution in the air or at sea.
5- The community will be covered in shade and leaves can be converted into compost or left in the ground to improve soil quality and that in turn will improve water retention.
6- Pungai is a legume tree which means it adds nitrogen to the soil and enriches it.
7- Pungai oil can also be used for making soap locally. It is a good pesticide when mixed with neem oil and sprayed on crops. It has medicinal uses. The seed shells can be converted to charcoal for cooking.
8- For SHGs there are opportunities in running pongamia nursery businesses once everyone wants to plant these trees.
9- It is a good windbreak and protects the seashore communities from storms, cyclones and tsunami
10- The community wealth is retained in the village and not given to petrol pumps and India's wealth is retained in the country and not exported to Arabia.

Q: Is it a difficult tree to cultivate?
A: In fact it is an easy tree and a friend of the poor man. It costs little to cultivate. The only care is in plant selection and first planting. And then as much watering as you can. It is always best to use carefully gathered seeds from known high yielding trees. Saplings about 2 feet high are planted in pits which are 2'x2'x2'. The pits are first filled with a mixture of farm yard manure and red earth. Near the sea that should be enough. In clayey soil some sand may be added. It is best to plant them in the cooler months. Near Chennai, between late August or October are the best months. Rain and cool season helps to establish the trees. Between March and October each plant is watered with 2 litres per week. It can accept brackish water and if absolutely necessary, even sea water. Pongamia is known to have grown standing in sea water. Cattle doesn't touch it. It has a some bitterness in it that prevents browsing by cattle.

Q: Tell us about the economics
A: In simple terms, 400 trees, after five years of planting, yield 1000 litres of oil and 3000 kg of oil cake per year. One can plant a maximum of 400 trees in an acre with 10 feet between trees and 10 feet between rows. When planting along road sides it is better to give a spacing of 15 feet and allow the tree to grow tall and give shade. Thus we get 400 trees for every two kilometers. When planting along the sea coast, it is advisable to plant in three rows, 10 feet apart. That means for every 400 metres one gets 400 trees. The trees yield once a year. The oil seeds encased in hard shells fall to the ground. Children and elderly people can gather them and be paid about Rs.3 per kilo. If shells are broken open manually, there can be a labour fee of Rs.2 per kilo. The oil seed if sufficiently dry, can then be milled. 25% comes out as oil and 75% as oil cake. Currently, if seeds are freely available as in the countryside and forests, the cost of oil per litre is working out to about Rs.15. Because there is a great shortage and high demand, traders are selling it at about Rs.29 making it just a little cheaper than diesel oil. You can imagine the potential.

Q: How do we get oil out of the seeds?
A: Seeds are gathered by people who are paid a fee per kilo. Then if they shell the seed and bring it they get an additional fee for the labour. If the quantity of seeds to be crushed is not great, the lots are transported to a central mill which can serve several villages. There it is crushed for a fee and oil and cake are returned. The oil is then warmed up and double filtered in a fine filter cloth and it is ready for use as diesel-substitute or as a diesel-mixture. If the oil cake is available in good quantities, it can be put in digesters to generate bio-gas useful for cooking. The slurry can be sold as manure. Otherwise oil-cake can be sold as manure directly. Presently it fetches Rs.4 per kilo.
If the quantity of seeds available is large, a decorticator can be used for shelling. Both the decorticator and the mill can be driven by oil engines running on pungai oil.

Q: What are the things that can go wrong in the project?
A: The two areas of failure are 1- wrong plant selection and 2- lack of maintenance. If seedlings from high yielding trees are chosen, planted in well-prepared pits, during the cool rainy season and then watered once a week with 2 litres per tree, there is little chance of anything going wrong. Pongamia is a very tough tree and grows along seashores and hill slopes. It withstands droughts very well. Cattle doesn't browse it and so they don't require fencing. There is not much that can go wrong.

Q: Who are behind this project?
A: The inspiration has come from Prof Udipi Shrinivasa of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He has a demo centre near Bangalore and his research work in his field through his organisation SuTra, has been widely acknowledged. He has implemented many projects all over India.

D V Sridharan, publisher of and a resident of Muttukkadu has been following and reporting the pungai maram story for over 3 years now. GoodNewsIndia Foundation is one of the active promoters. East Coast Citizens' Organisation [ECCO] has its main interest in environment. After the tsunami of Dec26, ECCO has come to the help of fishermen and assisted them in all ways it can. It was then that ECCO realised that the future of fishermen can be made secure if they are encouraged to run their engines on diesel substitutes. TREE Foundation has been working in five villages near Chennai, along the ECR and promoting environmental awareness. In the process, TREE has gained the trust and confidence of fishermen. These four organisations can together ensure the success of the project.

Q: How will the programme be implemented?
A: 1- After you have all read this booklet, GET [GNIF + ECCO + TREE] will conduct a series of interactions in the target villagers. [May, 2005]
2- Prof Shrinivasa and his team will be invited to demonstrate the use of oil in fishermen's engines in one or two villages. They will convert one or two engines and actually show you how pungai ennai can be used. People can also ask him questions.[May, 2005]
3- Villages will be surveyed to identify suitable places for planting. Capacity of each village will be estimated and the required number of saplings will be procured from SuTra. These plants will be kept ready in the shade and watered. [June, 2005] 4- Discussions on forming groups for watering, supervising and monitoring the saplings [July,2005] 5- Planting [August, 2005]


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