Advantages: Mundle points out that petrol, being a fossil fuel, is limited in nature whereas turmeric plants can be grown throughout the year. The basic resource required, turmeric leaves, is available free because it is an unused by-product of turmeric production. Turmeric is already being grown on a large scale in India with India accounting for 78% of the world’s turmeric production. The distillation of the oil is a cheap process, and the expense for setting up the steam distillation plant is a one-time cost. The extraction solvent used in the distillation process is water which is a very cheap natural resource. Compared to crude oil there are no costs for oil exploration, drilling of deep oil wells, and expensive processes for bringing the oil in the well up to the ground. Given these factors, the present production cost per litre of turmeric oil in the laboratory – about `50 per litre (See Box), could decrease considerably with the use of large-scale commercial production techniques, feels Mundle. Also, the yield of the turmeric leaf oil, which at present is about 10 litres per tonne of turmeric leaves, could go up to 15 to 20 litres with the use of the much more efficient Supercritical Fluid Extraction Method that requires more initial capital investment. Mundle has not been able to implement that given his limited financial resources at present.
Also, two other very useful products – biogas and vermicompost fertiliser – can be produced at no extra cost. Biogas can be used as a replacement for CNG and LPG in vehicles and as a cooking fuel as well. Further, the process of turmeric leaf oil production avoids the considerable damage to the ecosystem and environment, such as pollution of the underground water table which happens in case of crude oil production.
In future, Mundle wants to test the oil in engines in bigger vehicles such as cars and trucks. The bigger engines in these vehicles need much more efficient fuel which he hopes to achieve by refining the turmeric leaf oil to a greater extent. He is currently carrying out research exploring ways to achieve this. He is also looking at techniques to boost the yield of the oil from the turmeric leaves.
Harshal Powar, lecturer in Pharmacy at Dr L H Hiranandani College of Pharmacy, with more than ten years of industry experience in pharmacognosy and phytochemistry, gave valuable inputs to Mundle in his research efforts. Powar says, “This work is important because it offers a valuable, and what could potentially turn out to be, very important use of turmeric leaves – a product which is otherwise being just thrown away by the farmers. The oil has been tested on both two stroke and four stroke vehicles. The method Mundle used was crude – the steam distillation method. While it is cheap and simple, it has its limits in removing impurities from the oil, and also does not give a very good yield. A modern method to extract the oil such as the Supercritical Fluid Extraction method would give better results and better yields too.”
Petrol, being a fossil fuel, is limited in nature whereas turmeric plants can be grown throughout the year. The basic resource required, turmeric leaves, is available free because it is an unused by-product of turmeric production. Turmeric is already being grown on a large scale in India with India accounting for 78% of the world’s turmeric production. The distillation of the oil is a cheap process, and the expense for setting up the steam distillation plant is a one-time cost. The extraction solvent used in the distillation process is water which is a very cheap natural resource.
He adds, “The project did not have the specialised instruments needed for testing the properties of turmeric leaf oil such as a gas chromatograph and a flash point testing apparatus due to limitation of funds. If experienced researchers with right sources of funding take it up, we could do much better research on the oil.”
For turmeric leaf oil to provide a credible alternative to petrol, the biggest challenge, as in the case of other bio-fuels, is the challenge of being able to produce enough, enough to satisfy the massive demand for fuel which is being satisfied at present by the petroleum industry, not to speak of matching the total production. Production of even a significant fraction of the petrol produced would go a long way in making an economic and environmental impact. Perhaps a mixture of petrol and turmeric leaf oil, blended in a proportion similar to the 2% blend for Jatropha blended bio-diesel, recommended by a study commissioned by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and the Confederation of Indian industry (CII), could be a possible target to begin with.