Herbal fuel ?!!


#10 School dropout stuns scientists with `herbal-petrol'

"The Indian Express" Friday, September 6 1996


NEW DELHI, September 5: A high school dropout from Tamil Nadu created history yesterday, when he turned water into a petrol-like fuel by mixing it with a herb he discovered in the hills. Scientists witnessing his demonstration at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) said they were baffled. ``It is incredible but true,'' exclaimed IIT chemist N K Jha who organised the experiment at the request of the Department of Science and Technolog y (DST). What this discovery means is that, given the herb, one can convert plain tap water into a fuel that can drive a vehicle. In fact 30-year old Ramar Pillai who discovered the amazing herb seven years ago has been doing precisely that in his village near Rajapalayam. Pillai, who was invited to Delhi by DST secretary Valangiman Ramamurti, says his herbal petrol would cost Re 1 per litre. All he wants from DST is money to put up a plant in his native place and personal protection. He recently faced an attempt on his lif e for refusing to part with his secret.

``I am personally convinced it is a discovery worth pursuing,'' said Ramamurti after repeating the experiment himself. The product burnt with a sooty flame, smelled like kerosene and on distillation yielded a pure hydrocarbon fraction with a boiling point of 170 degree (C). ``We have no doubt that we are sitting on something very big,'' Ramamurti said. ``But we must proceed carefully and systematically.''

He said the DST has assigned the highest priority to get Ramamurti's invention patented. The department has also acceded to his request for funds to erect a 300 litre per day pilot plant at Rajapalayam.

Simultaneously, the best scientists in the country are going to be assembled to analyse the chemical process in detail before setting up a plant with a production capacity one million litres herbal fuel per day, Ramamurti said. Defence science adviser A P J Abdul Kalam has been briefed and he is reportedly ``excited.''

Ramamurthi said the economic implication of his discovery for the country being so enormous, he has decided to keep Science Minister Yoginder Alagh and the office of Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda informed about the developments.

As a eighth class student, Ramar realized the value of the plant during a picnic in a forest when a flying spark from the cooking stove set a leaf of a nearby plant on fire. He almost forgot about this strange event of a green leaf catching fire but ten years later he tracked down the plant and started experimenting with it. To produce petrol, leaves and barks of this plant are cooked for about ten minutes in hot water. The mixture is cooled and stirred after adding a little salt, citric acid and a traces of a few unknown chemicals. Once allowed to settle the liquid fuel, wh ich is lighter than water, floats to the top and is separated by filtering. The entire process takes less than 30 minutes. According to DST, laboratory tests conducted with earlier samples have conclusively shown that the herbal fuel is a pure hydrocarbon similar to kerosene and diesel. Engineers at IIT in Madras who conducted static tests in two-stroke engines concluded that the herbal fuel offered better fuel economy than petrol, and that it ``will have good potential in a four-stroke petrol as well as diesel engines.''

Scientists say that while there is no doubt about generation of liquid fuel, they are not able to explain the source of carbon necessary to make the hydrocarbon. They are also surprised by the extreme speed of the process.

One possible source of carbon, according to Ratna Choudhury ofIIT, is atmospheric carbon dioxide that is probably sucked in during the reaction. Combining with hydrogen liberated from water it can form the hydrocarbon fuel. ``Right now it is only a guess ,'' she said.

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