An eco-friendly fuel alternative
The seeds of Pongamia pinnata yield an oil which is used as a bio-fuel for automobiles
Shady crown Pongamia has clusters of white flowers tinged with pink
The commonly found avenue tree `Punga maram' (Pongamia pinnata) is a small to medium sized fast growing tree with a short trunk and a spreading umbrella-like shady crown with slight drooping branches. Pongamia comes from the Tamil word Pongam used by the local people and pinnata in Latin means `feathery' referring to the arrangement of the leaves. The leaves are bright green, glossy with a characteristic smell when rubbed between the fingers and often marred by the presence of round grey spots caused by insects which tunnel through and eat the green tissues. The small flowers are short-stalked, white and tinged with pink and are produced in clusters on axillary, pendulous, pubescent racemes. The flattened pods are green at first, turning brown when ripe.
The leaves are lopped for fodder and are also popular as green manure for rice and sugarcane fields, areca gardens and coffee plantations. The root extract is used for cleansing foul ulcers and closing fistulous sores. The seeds crushed to a paste are used for leprous sores and painful rheumatic joints. The seed cake after expression of oil is valued as manure for coffee and found to nitrify the soil considerably.
Seeds yield oil
The seeds of Pongamia pinnata yield pongam oil, a bitter, reddish brown, thick, non drying, non edible oil which is used as a bio-fuel for automobiles, and as a lubricant for engines. It is reported that the residents of Powerguda in Andhra Pradesh had planted 4,500 Pongamia trees along the edges of their agricultural lands. The oil from the seeds extracted in the village oil mills, installed by the local government agency, is then used as a bio-fuel. According to an official source, 5,00,000 Pongamia saplings were distributed in Adilabad district in 2003. The seed oil is used as a substitute for diesel in electricity generation in rural Karnataka. This form of fuel is used in a project called SUTRA (Sustainable Transformation of Rural Areas) run by IIS Scientists, Bangalore and funded by the Indian Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy and the local government.
Feathery leaves These often have grey spots caused by insects
The Indian Government is encouraging the production of bio-fuel through community based energy plantations of Pongamia pinnata and other oil bearing seeds as bio-fuel is bio-degradable, non-toxic, free of sulphur and aromatics and reduces carbon-dioxide emission considerably. If Pongamia oil is exploited suitably, bio-fuel can make a huge difference to the country's environment and economy.
PAULINE DEBORAH & RIDLING MARGARET WALLER
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