Shipping Biodiesel and Hope to India

For Pure Energy Corporation, shipping U.S.-made biodiesel to India is more than just another export opportunity. It's a chance to help a nation of 1.2 billion people set meaningful, lasting fuel quality standards.
By Tom Bryan | October 01, 2004
When New Jersey-based Pure Energy Corporation shipped its second consignment of U.S.-produced biodiesel to India in late August, it did so with an important personal guarantee from its president and CEO, Irshad Ahmed.

"Whether we ship a gallon of biodiesel or 100 drums, we promise to showcase the best quality product the United States has to offer," Ahmed said. "We have an obligation to help India set a standard."

Pure Energy is not a biodiesel producer. Rather, the corporation is a technology provider and an international distributor that purchases-and guarantees the quality of-biodiesel produced in the United States for export to other countries.

But make no mistake about it. Pure Energy isn't just another random exporter trying to capitalize on the deficiencies of a nation in need.

The truth is, shipping U.S. biodiesel overseas, especially halfway around the world to India, is not economical in small amounts. Pure Energy is shipping what Ahmed called "decent amounts-but a drop in the bucket really-not the shiploads one might think." He said the economies of scale that would make biodiesel exportation profitable are in the range of "tens of millions" of gallons per year.
"The shipping costs are prohibitive," he explained. "The costs would eat up a company if it didn't handle everything in a very strategic manner."

So why is Pure Energy shipping biodiesel to India? Because, Ahmed told Biodiesel Magazine, investors in the United States and Europe have an opportunity-and a responsibility-to help a nation of 1.2 billion people become less dependent on fossil fuels. Pure Energy is taking a long-term approach to biodiesel development in India, establishing credibility through consistent shipments of high-quality biodiesel over an extended period of time, not just in India but worldwide. Eventually, Ahmed said, the company will help nations such as India establish advanced production technology on their own soil. "We're not just exporting biodiesel, we are exporting technology and working with government and industry stakeholders," he explained.

Displaced from the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Pure Energy is probably best known for its patented Puranol and polymeric fuel additive systems for ethanol-diesel ("e-diesel") blends. In addition to providing high-quality biodiesel, the corporation has developed an integrated biorefinery technology platform for producing ethanol and chemicals from agricultural and municipal wastes.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Pure Energy is what Ahmed calls a "total solution company" that creates and improves fuels. "You could say we soften up the sharp edges of biofuels," he said.

The corporation is actively pursuing new technologies that will allow it to help the international biodiesel industry overcome NOx emission challenges and separation issues. It is also working on performance enhancement additives and exploring production technologies that would make it more feasible to produce biodiesel from not only oil seeds and waste oils, but lesser known feedstocks such as fish oil. "Anything that offers an advantage," Ahmed said.
Indian-born Ahmed, former president of the National Biodiesel Foundation, has always believed in biodiesel. That's one of the reasons he wants to see it succeed in India, where cleaner-burning alternative fuels are desperately needed. India is the world's second-largest producer of sugarcane and, for that sole reason, its government is aggressively pursuing ethanol production and use programs. However, Ahmed said, most of the nation's motor vehicles have diesel engines. "Ethanol alone is not going to do it," he warned.

The biodiesel Pure Energy has shipped to India is being used in government-backed demonstration projects. The latest consignment was shipped to Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd., India's second-largest oil company. The shipment is supporting a pilot project taking place with Brihan Mumbai Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking, one of the largest bus fleets in the world. The project is primarily focused on reducing air pollution levels in the city of Mumbai. It is the first biofuels test program of its kind in urban transport in India.

The previous consignment of biodiesel shipped to India-"just a few dozen barrels," Ahmed said-was delivered in January to the nation's largest petroleum company, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd., for use in government-sponsored field trials with the Indian Railways and Haryana Roadways. India has the largest, most complex rail system in the world, accounting for the vast majority of all motorized transportation there.

"India wants to launch a major biodiesel effort, but they have not been able to lock in on a consistent source," Ahmed said. "That's why the fuel we have supplied them with is so important. They are going to set their standards on it-this is their reference-everything else could be based on these demonstrations."

Despite what is often reported in the mainstream media, Ahmed claimed, India actually has just two biodiesel plants, both in the "development stages" and "struggling." Nevertheless, he said, government officials are intent on building a major biodiesel industry that will complement its ethanol production plans. "The willpower is there," Ahmed said.

But what is not there is an abundant, sustainable feedstock supply or advanced process technology. Many Westerners believe that India has an abundance of vegetable oils (oil seeds) because the nation is famous for foods cooked in vegetable oils. However, according to Ahmed, India consumes 100 percent of the edible oils it produces and is a net importer of edible oils.

In addition to being the largest U.S. supplier of biodiesel to India, Pure Energy is actively working to establish local biodiesel production on the ground in that country. The corporation is committed to fulfilling additional biodiesel orders to support the Indian government's renewable energy initiatives until domestic producers have an adequate feedstock supply.

The only real hope today lies in non-edible tree oils, such as jatropha and pongamia. These oil trees are hardy plants that require minimum water and can grow in nearly all soil types.

Plants like jatropha, which produce non-edible oil seeds, can grow very well in varied regions of India. Ahmed said farmers are eager to produce it, but there's a hitch: these plants take three to five years to produce full yields. "So, at best, India is at least five years away from mass production."

And that's the positive outlook. Ahmed said that unless U.S. and European companies invest in India's fledgling biodiesel industry, India will struggle for another 10 to 12 years. Ahmed has spent a significant amount of time in India, traveling there three times in 2004 alone, and has worked with India's Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas as well as other government officials to help the country build a successful biodiesel industry. He said the corporation will continue to establish itself in the market as a trusted supplier. "Maintaining very high quality standards is critical to what they need right now," he said. "Indian producers should be able to look at U.S. biodiesel and say 'that's the biodiesel we want to get to.'"

Ahmed believes that U.S. biodiesel is "more consistent" than biodiesel produced in other areas of the world. He said that despite the fact that the United States lags behind Europe in production capacity, he believes the U.S. industry has leapt ahead of the world in research and development, quality control standards and process technology. He sees the exportation of these standards as a huge opportunity for American firms. "The future looks very bright in the near-term with Europe, Asia and India moving toward more and more biodiesel use," he said.

Pure Energy isn't the only U.S. company helping meet the growing international demand for biodiesel. California-based American Biofuels, a biodiesel production company that is 35 percent owned by Green Star Products Inc., recently announced that it had shipped a container-load of U.S.-produced biodiesel to Asia. The shipment is believed to be the largest order of biodiesel ever shipped from the United States to Asia. The company shipped approximately 6,000 gallons of biodiesel packaged in over 100 barrels. The company called the shipment "a major step in opening Asian markets to U.S.-produced biodiesel and biodiesel technology."

World Energy Alternatives LLC, the leading biodiesel distributor in the United States, focuses mainly on growing domestic markets for biodiesel. However, the Massachusetts-based company has dabbled in the export market and, according to the company's CEO, has a small but growing global presence.

As for Pure Energy's immediate plans, Ahmed said, "We are probably not going to become a producer in the immediate future, but we will continue to be an ambassador of international biodiesel business. We are dedicated to meeting the growing international demand." n

Tom Bryan is editorial director of Biodiesel Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]
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