The real and potential benefits of biofuels are widely accepted. In terms of environmental sustainability, products such as bioethanol provide a supplement to — and soon a replacement for — fossil fuels prevalent today. As technologies develop, we see more and more of this potential being realized. However, one seldom-considered facet of these technologies is their use as a tool for improving the quality of life in under-developed communities.
Biodiesel production for economic stimulation
Biodiesel is a type of biofuel derived from plant oils or animal fats. Processing and refining these raw materials gives rise to fuels that can be used to meet a variety energy needs. In a rural village in India, water pumping and power generation are just some examples. The project initiated by CTxGreEn, a Canadian non-profit organization, targets specific goals. First, they sought to bring about the economic independence of these communities. Second, they sought to soften gender inequality by empowering women. Finally, all this is to be done in an environmentally sustainable way.
Economic independence of communities
For the inhabitants of remote villages in India, biodiesel production brings about more than access to fuel. A new economic industry provides jobs for individuals residing in these villages, opportunities for business, training, and education, as well as use of the final product.
The type of production being implemented is meant to stay at the village level. Raw materials are acquired by individuals from the village. All processing is by inhabitants, who also are the ones to benefit from the final products. At each stage, workers are needed to carry out these functions.
Many aspects of the production process have been identified to be viable business ventures; for example, the milling part where the seeds are ground and the oil is extracted. By separating the work into distinct steps, the village becomes specialized in certain tasks and becomes a network. This fosters growth of the community. Another example is final producers being able to sell excess biodiesel and village leaders using it to negotiate amenities from the government. More specifically, the long term goal is for biodiesel produced to be used as leverage to obtain an electrical grid for the village.
Skilled labour requires training. One notable aspect of this project is that training is done in a sustainable way. Today’s students and technicians become teachers of tomorrow and are given the tools they need to pass their skills forward. Not only to operators learn how to run machinery, they are taught how to teach others. This all contributes to a self-sustaining system.
Empowerment of women
It is no secret that India today remains a male-dominated society. For small villages, this can become problematic as many men migrate to larger cities. This leaves women who are unable to till the land, leaving it an unused resource. Therefore, implementing biodiesel production at the village level not only provides work for these men, keeping them in the village, but gives women a stronger role in the community. One strategy is to teach young girls how to run the machinery used for biodiesel processing. Given that skill and experience, they are able to leverage it to gain higher status in their communities. They become integral to the system.
Biodiesel is a renewable energy fuel. In this scenario, it is produced locally and is carbon neutral. The biodiesel produced is more than enough to meet the energy needs of the community.
The project also adds value to under-utilized resources, in this case the seeds niger and karanj. One is used as birdfeed; the other is a little-used a forset oil-seed. Oil is extracted from the seeds to make biodiesel by a chemical process. The residual oil cake is used as organic fertilizer and feed for livestock. Little is wasted in terms of the raw material, and many high-value products that can be used and sold are produced.
Biofuels are clearly beneficial to the environment, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. The implementation of biodiesel production, even on a small scale, has a profound impact on the lives of many people. Of course, challenges arise: this model is dependent on a steady seed supply; trading biofuels by the village can be hampered by competition from large-scale producers; and regulations and policies may create road blocks. However, the benefits far outweigh these risks. If all else fails, the social changes brought about by this project in this community remain. Skills in business management and entrepreneurship will allow inhabitants to transition more easily into different economic sectors.
Phalan, B. 2009. The social and environmental impacts of biofuels in Asia: An overview. Applied Energy. 86 (2009) S21-S29. Available from [accessed 8 December 2014].
Timilsina, G., Shrestha, A. 2011. How much hope should we have for biofuels? Energy. 36 (2011) 2055 – 2069.
Vaidyanathan, G., Sankaranarayanan, R. 2009. India: Producing Biodiesel Fuel from Local Seeds for Livelihoods, Water Pumping and Power Generation. In Biofuels for sustainable rural development and empowerment of women: case studies from Africa and Asia. Edited by Karlsson, G. and Banda, K. Energia, Leusden. pp. 18-24
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