Namibia to produce jatropha biodiesel

By | April 26, 2010

Posted May 5, 2010

LL Bio-fuels Namibia, a foreign-initiated multi-billion-dollar venture, has secured 300,000 hectares of land from chiefs in the north-eastern Caprivi Region to plant jatropha, whose seeds will be press-crushed to produce the much-sought-after biodiesel.

When jatropha seeds are crushed the resulting oil can be processed into biodiesel while the residue, or press cake, can be used as biomass feedstock for electricity or as a fertilizer because jatropha contains nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

The jatropha plant may yield more than 10 times as much fuel per hectare as soybeans, and more than 10 times that of maize.

LL Bio-fuels signed a 20-year lease agreement with the co- owners of Katima Farm-the Caprivi Regional Council and Namibia Development Corporation (NDC)-to enable the firm to undertake various crop experiments aimed at maximum oil output.

Alon Vered, an agronomist and project manager for LL Bio-fuels Namibia (Pty), on Monday told a Xinhua correspondent who visited the Caprivi Region that the Israeli-owned biofuel venture has planted 400 different jatropha crop varieties on 15 hectares of the 400-hectare Katima Farm to see which of the selected pilot crop varieties has a higher diesel yield and is suitable for Namibia's north-eastern region.

If everything goes according to plan and if ongoing negotiations with the government sail through, LL Bio-fuels plans to produce the first barrels of the green fuel next year, he told Xinhua adding that the fuel will cost about 75 U. S. dollars per barrel, which is equivalent to about 200 litres. The product is most likely to be cheaper than fossil diesel.

The company also intends to engage one of the multinational oil companies once it starts production, possibly to explore avenues on how it can tap into this lucrative market.

So far, the project, mooted and funded by an Israeli tycoon has invested N$20 million for the ongoing experimental phase.

But once the Israelis are content with the yield, billions of dollars will be pumped into commercial production of jatropha on 20,000-hectare portions of the land availed by the chiefs.

"Our target is to find the best jatropha tree varieties that yield 3 to 8 tons of diesel per year, that is why we are experimenting to see which variety is suitable for Caprivi," explained the agronomist, sent to Namibia by Lev Leviev, the Israeli investor.

He said since the 300,000 hectares availed by all the chiefs in Caprivi is more than adequate "we only want to plant 20,000 hectares at a time. And the jatropha seed will go to a press machine, just like olive oil seeds, to squeeze out the biodiesel. "

The firm intends to channel some of the billions of dollars into a hi-tech chemical plant that will comprise a huge seed press and some silos for the storage of the oil-rich seeds. Once crushed and the biofuel extracted, the seeds will leave a residue that will be converted into an organic fertilizer that will be spread on the jatropha plants.

For every 20,000 hectares of land planted with the deep-rooted and drought-resistant jatropha that produces seeds all-year-round, the firm expects a yield of a million barrels and for 100,000 hectares 5 million barrels of bioffuel will be extracted from jatropha.

"All this biodiesel produced we will use it for Namibia and export some of it. We want to be the biggest producer of biofuel in Africa, especially for biodiesel," he said.

He also said unlike Angola and Nigeria amongst several African and other countries that have commercial crude oil deposits, Namibia imports this strategic resource to meet domestic energy needs spending crucial foreign reserves on its oil bill.

American pioneer entrepreneur, Henry Ford, was the first to use "biodiesel" when he successfully used oil extracted from groundnuts to fuel a motorized vehicle.

Namibia also imports between 70 and 80 percent of its food mainly from neighboring South Africa but the Katima Mulilo-based investor wants to offset this colonial legacy of food imports and dependency by making Namibia self-sufficient in food production.

In this vein, the firm has cross-planted some sweet potatoes between the jatropha plants that can grow up to 10 meters high, but whose height will be maintained at about 3 meters to ensure workers do not have to use cranes to pick the diesel-bearing seed, he said.

For now, the farm produces green and red peppers, tomatoes, bananas, onions, fresh corn-on-the-cob, cabbages, lettuce and other vegetables for the market at Katima Mulilo.

The project has a 100-strong multi-ethnic workforce but this number will possibly swell to thousands of employees once it attains commercial production.

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