India's Effort to Boost Biofuel Encounters Growing Pains

Country aims to feed boom with hardier crops, though it's a tough sell
By Clay Dillow,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 22, 2008 12:36 PM CDT
A worker is seen in the field of jatropha curcus plant, a source of biodiesel, at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, in Hyderabad, India.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – Just months after India’s finance minister called converting food crops to biofuels “a crime against humanity,” the government has launched a program that aims to get 20% of India’s diesel from plants by 2017, relying heavily on hardy plants that won’t keep rob needed land. But the biofuel crops take years longer to yield much of value, making it a tough sell, the Economist reports.

Jatropha, a hardy shrub, and pongamia pinnata, a tree whose seeds yield 30% of their weight in oil, are the centerpiece plants of the effort to wean India from its growing thirst for oil. Both plants grow in rocky soils and require a fraction of the water of food crops, but their yields are unreliable.