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Bengaluru: The Narendra Modi government is counting on the used cooking oil discarded by you to make India’s air cleaner and its oil-import bill cheaper.

The government announced last week that state-run oil marketing companies will for three years procure all the biodiesel produced from used cooking oil.

Biodiesel is a renewable, clean-burning fuel derived from vegetable oil, among other oils, and can be mixed with any kind of diesel, whether pure or blended with petroleum. It is non-toxic and biodegradable. 

The announcement was made by Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on World Biofuel Day, as part of the Modi government’s push for alternative sources of energy and lowering dependency on oil imports. 

The initiative has currently been launched across 100 cities. 

A favourable alternative

Biodiesel has emerged as a favourable alternative to fossil fuels in a warming world.

During the production process, it produces less than half the net carbon dioxide emissions thrown up by diesel refinement.

It can be made from any kind of oil, including vegetable oil (such as soy, canola), and animal fat — even used cooking oil — and provide consistent results. 

How biofuel is produced

The process of making biofuel is called transesterification. During this process, oil molecules are split into two parts — methyl esters and glycerine. The esters are combustive and are thus used for fuel. 

Meanwhile, the glycerine is filtered out for use in different industries, including the hygiene and beauty product sector where it is a mainstay due to its ability to pull moisture and hydrate. 

Process of production of biodiesel from oil. | Credit: Bioenergy Australia

States like Karnataka have adopted biofuels widely, including in the state-run corporation buses. 

The state government also distributed saplings of pongamia, from which biodiesel can be derived, to farmers to plant on waste farm area, while other such plants like Nahar, Sal, and even Jatropha are being grown in Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Chhattisgarh.

In December 2018, the IAF first flew an AN-32 on a biofuel that was a blend of Jatropha oil and aviation turbine fuel (ATF), and the fleet was certified to fly on a bio-jet fuel earlier this year. 

Biodiesel reduces greenhouse emissions significantly, with a 2010 US study showing a reduction of between 57 and 86 per cent. 

While it has been shown to lower pollution, it still contributes to deforestation in some parts of the world, when forested areas are cut down to cultivate the crops required to produce biofuel. 

Some countries like the US do not consider biofuels made from palm oil as counting towards the renewable fuels mandate since they are not climate-friendly. 

Over 30 countries produce biofuel, with Germany leading the list. While Germans primarily produce the fuel from rapeseed, India is replacing Jatropha as source with pongamia and castor, which are less expensive. 

How the used cooking oil will be collected

A scheme centred on reusing cooking oil requires its efficient collection from domestic households and restaurants as well as industries. 

Just one day before the government’s announcement of the initiative, India’s health watchdog Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued an advisory, saying people should not reuse cooking oil more than three times when the quantity used is very high.

People can set aside this discarded oil and use the ‘Repurpose Used Cooking Oil (RUCO)’ sticker on it. A mobile app has been launched by the government to facilitate its collection. 

The government’s move is also likely to benefit some of the industries using glycerine, the other byproduct of the transesterification process. 

Apart from the beauty and personal care industry, glycerine is commonly used in pharmaceutical products, in medicinal care, and in the food industry as a sweetener. 

Also read: Food supply under threat, UN climate agency urges world to go vegan


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