No food grain use for bio-fuel production: PM

April 13th, 2008 - 3:40 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
(Lead, superseding earlier story)
By Liz Mathew
On Board Air India Special Aircraft, April 13 (IANS) India may be talking to Brazil over bio-fuel production for fuel sustainability, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is clear that his country, facing a food shortage, will not copy the South American nation to make ethanol from edible plants. According to Vilasrao Muttemwar, the minister for non-conventional energy accompanying President Pratibha Patil on her visit to Brazil, Mexico and Chile, Manmohan Singh has said that food grains should not be used to make bio-fuel in India.

The prime minister’s directive follows rising food prices and a shortage of food grains after decades of self-sufficiency.

“The prime minister is very particular that we should not use food grains for producing ethanol or any bio-fuel even if we are facing an energy crunch. We cannot afford that,” Muttemwar told IANS.

“The prime minister has also made it clear that we will grow (bio-fuel producing) plants (like Jatropa) in wastelands and we should ensure that there is no diversification from traditional cultivation,” the minister said.

Muttemwar added that India had around 35 million hectares of wasteland that can be used to cultivate such plants.

The government has proposed to constitute a bio-fuel board to formulate and implement a comprehensive plan for the production of alternative energy sources.

However, President Patil was not very forthcoming on India’s stance. Asked whether India would seek Brazil’s cooperation to produce ethanol from sugar, she said: “That is one point for discussion.”

Pointed out that there has been concern about the increasing use of food products to create the fuel leading to food grain shortage, she admitted:

“This is a matter of concern. Experts from both countries will discuss the matter.”

Economists have voiced concern that the US move to use maize in the production of ethanol was one of the reasons behind the current global food crisis.

Brazil imports 80 percent of the fuel it consumes. India had taken interest in that country’s success in the usage of alternative fuel and has been discussing the issue with Brazilian authorities.

India is the second biggest producer of sugar after Brazil.

Eighty percent of two million cars made in Brazil have flexi-fuel engines. The country has reduced its requirement of petrol sustainability since then.

It has also emerged as the lowest cost producer and leading global exporter of ethanol.

Ethanol now makes up more than 20 percent of Brazil’s transport fuel market, while the use of alternative fuels in the rest of the world is just one percent.

“The sugar producing states use 10 percent ethanol in the fuel,” Muttemwar told IANS.

The use of ethanol, which releases less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels, will help to reduce pollution.

“But how can a country like India, where many still face food shortage, use food grains to produce fuel? We promote bio-fuels made of plants like Jatropha and energy out of indigenous natural resources,” an official said.

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