Charting the Roadmap for Bio-Diesel

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK With the establishment of an Interim Bio-Energy Committee in December last year, various stakeholders will be meeting in Windhoek today to chart the way forward for the possible manufacturing of bio-diesel in Namibia. Experts seeking bio-diesel as a cheap, environmentally friendly and future alternative renewable fuel believe the time has come for Namibia to harness this energy source that has immense potential. It will be the first time the Interim Bio-Energy Committee will be meeting after its formation early in December 2005. The committee comprises of experts and researchers from the Namibian Agronomic Board, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, local producers and a representative from the Ministry of Mines and Energy. In a recent interview, the Chief Executive Officer of the Namibian Agronomic Board (NAB) Christof Brock said the consultations are based on drawing a road map for Namibia to create a conducive marketing environment. Based on its first draft consultation document by NAB, the objective is to look into planting perennial bio-oil crops such as Jatropha, ultimately receiving payments from Carbon Credits based on the Kyoto Agreement, and then to blend bio-diesel into ordinary diesel. Since the world is fast entering an environment where oil prices are escalating and the fact that bio-oil perennial trees can grow under arid conditions in the country, Brock said it was attractive for Namibia to tap into this field. “Growing Jatropha is marginally viable in the country because there is money that you can get from Carbon Credits which at the end of the day makes it a profitable crop,” said Brock, adding that it would be a potentially positive boost for the economy. As part of the Kyoto Protocol of which Namibia is a signatory, Carbon Credits is when richer countries that produce excess carbon emission into the atmosphere pay developing countries money for producing forests of Jatropha trees that absorb carbon elements. The thrust is to create an environmentally friendly planet in light of minimising global warming. Currently, countries like India, South America and Australia have ventured into bio-diesel production, where the oil producing Jatropha plantations are grown on a massive scale. In Africa, countries such as Ghana and Zimbabwe are also looking into the possibility of tapping into bio-diesel. Recently, the focus of G8 leaders on Africa was that “Jatropha can safely be said to be Africa’s development imperative which calls for immediate action. Given the continent’s conducive climates and vast land space, Africa has all it takes to lead the emerging bio-diesel market.” As a promising venture for Namibia, however, Chief Agricultural Researcher at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Marina Coetzee said it requires immense research before the Government can actually back the project. “The management of the ministry has not made a stand on it, but they are aware of the situation,” stated Coetzee, adding that technically consultations are underway to find ways and means to involve the private sector as well as look into logistics of how Namibia can tap into this viable project. Coetzee said the Jatropha tree that produces the nut that can be pressed for oil used in making bio-diesel is currently being planted on a small scale in the north. “The Jatropha is still under investigation and it will grow in areas where there’s a rainfall of higher than 300 mm, so that would be from Tsumeb upwards,” explained Coetzee further. Yet for now, research trials still need to be done before Namibia can tap into this resource.