Sidetracked into biofuels

One of the hazards of doing this column is how often I get side-tracked when going onto the Internet to check a fact.

In this case, I arrived at mobile phone giant Ericsson’s home page to get more info on a recent trial they’ve conducted into the ultra-speedy transmission of data on fibre-optic networks. The trial took place in Australia recently and allowed the transmission of data at 40Gbps (that’s gigabits per second) over telecommunications provider Telstra’s existing 10Gpbs network.

Increasing the network speed by four means you can effectively send four times as much information over existing links, with minimal changes to the existing cables. This really only applies to telecoms providers but hopefully, once the technology goes on sale, it will help to lower bandwidth prices.

So far, so good, but then I noticed other stories on the website that piqued my interest and what was meant to be a fleeting visit, turned into something much longer. One that caught my eye dates back to February this year and concerns the use of biofuels in enabling telecommunications in rural India.

It seems that a large percentage of the rural areas do not have regular and reliable electricity and a provider was experimenting with the use of biofuels to power cellular base stations in remote areas. A pilot project in Pune, in the Maharashtra region, was to use cotton or oil from jatropha nuts to produce bio-diesel to run the base stations.

It sounds to me to be a really clever idea to produce electricity from raw materials which can be grown locally. This saves on transporting the fuel to the areas which need it and it provides jobs in for people cultivating the fuel crops and making bio-diesel out of them. The article also claims that the use of biofuels has much less impact on the environment than conventional diesel fuel would have.

A quick visit to the Wikipedia encyclopaedia (wikipedia.org) reveals that jatropha is beginning to be widely used in India and is planted along the railway line between Delhi and Mumbai, providing a percentage of the fuel used by the trains that run along it.

A hectare of jatropha can apparently produce around 1900 litres of fuel, which would go a long way to providing power for rural communities. I don’t know if that particular plant can handle African conditions but the basic idea of communities growing their own fuel, or for resale, sounds good to me.

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