Botswana has the capacity to produce enough Jatropha for commercial production of bio-diesel with a potential to produce 450 litres of the fuel per hectare, according to a joint research conducted by the governments of Botswana and Japan.
Speaking recently during a renewable energy dialogue between Botswana and Italy, the Ministry of Minerals Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security’s advisor, Freddie Motlhatlhedi said the findings of the research would be used to scale up and commercialise the production of bio-fuels in the country through the cultivation of small to medium scale commercial Jatropha plantations.
“The findings of the research would be used to commercialise the production of bio-fuels in the country as well as breeding and evaluation of high yield and stress tolerant Jatropha varieties,” he said.
Through this, fuels would be produced from agricultural instead of geological processes. Preliminary findings have shown the highest yielding tree gives 739 seeds and attainment of higher yields would lead to scale-up and commercial production.
In 2010, the Ministry started investigations into indigenous plant oils as feedstock for biofuel production.
These include morula, morama, mongongo and Jatropha.
The following year, Botswana and Japan governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for investigations into the use of Jatropha.
The Jatropha project was initially born out of an investigation into several types of indigenous plants whose natural oils could potentially be processed into fuel. Jatropha flowers all year round, except in winter, producing seeds that contain up to 40% oil.
According to Motlhatlhedi, the findings of the research would be used to scale up and commercialise the production of biofuels in the country through blending and on-road vehicles testing, as well as evaluation of socio-economic and environmental impacts of Jatropha biodiesel oil production.
Japan’s entry into the budding biofuel research arena in Botswana, came as government also ramped up its own forays into alternative fuels, with plans to establish a five million litre per annum biodiesel processing plant that would initially be fed by meat tallow.
Proving the commercial viability of Jatropha would also result in an economic revolution in the country’s farming sector. Farmers would be able to diversify into growing Jatropha either for on-sale to national processors or to use smaller scale processors to produce oil for home use as an alternative, cleaner burning fuel.
By some estimates, a tonne of Jatropha seeds could sell for well over $1,000 per tonne, presenting an alternative cash crop for farmers with access to the plenty of land needed for its cultivation.
No part of the Jatropha plant goes to waste during or after processing. Each by-product can either be used as charcoal, pressed again for oil or incorporated into soil improvement materials.