Jatropha a Future Energy Boon

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The National Bio Energy Roadmap workshop last week recommended that Jatropha curcas, the most feasible bio-oil crop for Namibia, be gazetted under the Agronomic Industry Act of 1992. The meeting also recommended that appropriate regulations for liquid fuel standards in terms of the Petroleum Products Act should be gazetted as well. Other bio-oil energy crops, they agreed, should be gazetted when necessary. Jatropha, a perennial oil-nut bearing tree, is currently being viewed as the most feasible plant for dry land cultivation in Caprivi, Kavango and the maize triangle for the extraction of bio-oil. It is envisaged that approximately 63 000 hectares of the Jatropha will be planted in Namibia by the year 2013, which would contribute N$189 million to GDP. The oil is likely to be used in the bio-energy sector for blending into commercial diesel, decentralised on farm-blending into agricultural diesel, for exports to niche markets, running an envisaged 12 small 1MW decentralized power station and other uses such as soap making and substitution for paraffin. The workshop, which attracted over 80 participants, deliberated on a draft final consultancy report on the National Bio-Energy Roadmap in order to agree on the way forward. The meeting agreed that the National Bio-Oil Energy Committee be formed comprising of six main concerned ministries, a wide variety of private sector organizations and entrepreneurs and be chaired by the Namibia Agronomic Board. Although the focus is on Jatropha, some participants felt that Namibia should keep its options for bio-energy open. Apart from pursuing other options, an expert in the field advised that the government should come up with policy guidelines that set targets for mandatory blending of fossil fuels with bio-fuels. According to the Managing Director of Biofuels Industry Development in South Africa, Fanie Brink, South Africa is set to go the mandatory route of setting targets for blending bio-fuels with fossil fuels in the near future, which will in turn create new markets for the fuels. Participants felt that as a national roadmap, it should be all inclusive of biomass such as bush encroachment as well as plant oils like sunflower, canola, soy, cotton and others that yield plant oil seed and seed cake. Other crops such as a sugar cane and maize yield the raw material for ethanol production. The roadmap is a policy document which aims at integrating development imperatives, existing policy, government and NGO aid agencies and private sector resources to mobilise technology and take advantage of market opportunities. It assumes an energy intensive economy in the foreseeable future with large dependence on electricity, liquid fuel and other household energy sources. It hints that the rapid development of Jatropha holds the key to Namibia’s bio-energy future because it is already grown and carries fruit under dry land conditions in the identified areas of Namibia, although it is not yet domesticated. The plant is widely cultivated in Africa, India, Central America and India. The other plant oils that were looked at include cotton, soy and canola, which were found to be uncertain and unsuitable to grow in Namibia’s conditions. Some argued that due to the fact that the country was talking about bio-energy in general, the roadmap should include other options as well because Namibia has enormous biomass availability. “In terms of the roadmap, we should focus on the problems, which is bush encroachment. “We should find a solution for that first and then look at other problems,” said one participant. A part of the workshop felt that Namibia, which sits with tonnes upon tonnes of invader bush, needed to use the biomass for electricity generation instead of looking into planting more crops to produce energy. Apart from this, they said there was a place in today’s world for everything, which Namibia authorities should look into. “We should consider all bio-fuels. Include the whole bunch. I find the strategy to promote Jatropha disturbing when other crops have similar potential,” one of the participants said, adding “We should leave it open for others and not just promote one.” However, NAB Chief Executive Officer, Christof Brock, said the focus was Jatropha because Namibian dry land production could do with alternatives for diversification. The Managing Director of Bio Fuels Industry Development of South Africa also advised that Namibia should look at other crops such as drought-resistant maize, which has been developed in America. South Africa at the moment is developing a big ethanol plant that will consume 375 000 tonnes of maize per annum and produce 158 million liters of bio-ethanol. The plant, already under construction in the Free State province, will also produce 108 000 tonnes of animal feed.