In the scenario of imminent energy crises fuelled by huge import bills and rising prices of petro-based products, biofuels seem to be options of the future. Some promising biofuel species like Jatropha and Pongamia are being used traditionally for domestic purposes in many parts of India. Karanj, (Pogamia pinnata) a plant native to India, appears to have good potential for biodiesel. Considered less exotic than Jatropha, there is a good chance that its oil is cheaper as well.
Continuous increase in demand of petroleum products has encouraged the experts to search new alternatives of petroleum products. It is the result of their search that today we are having many alternatives of petroleum products. There are many alternatives in the name of Bio-diesel. India has also taken initiative in this field and today the whole world is looking to the Indian’s bio-diesel plans. The Indian experts have identified many plants that can be used as source to Bio-diesel. For different agro-climatic situations they have suggested different types of plants. But ignoring these recommendations every where the promotion of single species Jatropha is in progress. No one is thinking about other alternatives. Although in media the name of Jatropha is in top but in fact its nearer relative Karanj (Pogamia pinnata) is having immense potential as bio-diesel plant. And for real development the promotion of Karanj is must. From scientific point of view Karanj is far better than Jatropha.
Very few people know that Jatropha is exotic plant .It is native to Tropical America. Karanj is native plant and it is present in our homeland since generations. The modern research have proved it that the introduction of new component in any ecosystem affects the life of each and every component from top to bottom i.e. from other plants to microorganisms. Jatropha is known as plant having dominating nature. This plant is rich in allelochemicals. This is the reason the traditional healers of Chhattisgarh have named it as Raja Van (King Plant) .It suppresses the growth of other plants. Due to its aggressive nature and harmful impact on flora it is declared as problematic weed in many countries. There is no such problem from Karanj. Karanj is an integral part of our ecosystem and it supports the growth of many plants as well as microorganisms in nature.
Recently the seed oil has been found to be useful in diesel generators. Last year in Gardih village of Bokaro district in Jharkhand State,the experiment to generate electricity with oilseeds of karanj was hugely successful. Barely 2 litres of the oil light up 100 homes as well as 20 bulbs put on lamp-posts outside for three hours every evening, between 6 and 9 pm.
Karanj is a wild and largely neglected tree that grows unplanned but in abundance in several forested areas, in Jharkhand. The ease with which the oil has substituted diesel or petrol at Gardih, has opened up possibilities of electrifying villages at the fraction of the cost required to extend transmission lines across remote and far-flung areas.
In Jharkhand it is found occasionally along streams and largely along road sides. From ancient days Karanj oil is being used in Jharkhand to light diya (small pot made of soil) during diwali festival.
It is a deciduous tree that grows to about 15-25 meters in height with a large canopy that spreads equally wide. The leaves are a soft, shiny burgundy in early summer and mature to a glossy, deep green as the season progresses. Small clusters of white, purple, and pink flowers blossom on their branches throughout the year, maturing into brown seed pods. The tree is well suited to intense heat and sunlight and its dense network of lateral roots and its thick, long taproot make it drought tolerant. The dense shade it provides slows the evaporation of surface water and its root structures promote nitrogen fixation, which moves nutrients from the air into the soil. Withstanding temperatures slightly below 0°C to 50°C and annual rainfall of 5–25 dm, the tree grows wild on sandy and rocky soils.
Although all parts of the plant are toxic and will induce nausea and vomiting if eaten, the fruits and sprouts, along with the seeds, are used in many traditional remedies. Juices from the plant, as well as the oil, are antiseptic and resistant to pests. In addition the Pongam tree has the rare property of producing seeds of 25-35% lipid content. The seed oil is an important asset of this tree having been used as lamp oil, in soap making, and as a lubricant for thousands of years.
In Jharkhand the local people use the Karanj oil in different medicinal purposes. The oil has been known for its curative effect for skin problems such as herpes, leucoderma, psoriasis, scabies and skin itches. The root is ground with water and is used for cure of wounds.
Karanj honey is obtained by migrating bee colonies by beekeepers of the region to districts of Ranchi, Palamu, Hazaribagh of the Jharkhand state.
Though Jharkhand has vast deposits of minerals like iron ore, coal and bauxite, time has come to think and act for alternatives of minerals before they exhaust. 'We should think not only about the present but also about the future and the coming generations. Bio-diesel production will benefit Jharkhand, as the pollution level is high in many parts of the state due to mining and industrial waste.