What happened to discussions around oil of Jatropha curcas plant that's similar to diesel?

One of the major sources of pollution are the outputs from the burning of fossil fuels. Coupled with the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine, the shortage of fossil fuel and high prices of crude oil, scientists and economists are urging the Government to give biofuel sources a second trial.

One such source that is attracting much attention is Jatropha curcas, an oilseed crop. The characteristics of Jatropha seed oil match with those of diesel, according to studies and it has already been used as lamp fuel and as a lubricant.

An initial overview shows that a 2010 KARI study concluded that Jatropha curcas use in biodiesel production is not economically viable in Kenya, respective of the age of the trees and level of integration into the existing farming system. The study says, however, that better results could be derived when Jatropha is produced as an intercrop with good agronomic practices for enhanced yields coupled with post-harvest addition.

When you think about our oil bill that runs to over 25 per cent of foreign exchange earnings, if the climate crisis isn’t a great motivator, perhaps economic growth should be. The high cost of energy resulted in an increased cost of living and slowed economic growth.

A recent study on the ‘Current Progress of Jatropha curcas commoditisation as Biodiesel Feedstock’, found that Jatropha-based biofuel, when utilised in an internal combustion engine, produced less pollution and that the performance is similar to that of petroleum-based diesel. A litre would cost as low as Sh30 compared to kerosene which currently retails Sh150.

As it is a non-edible plant oil, not fit for human consumption, there would be no competition. It doesn’t require rich soil and takes about 15 months to grow and mature for harvesting and does well in dry land and humid regions.

As part of a pilot project in Kenya, about 15 years ago, there were some 300 farmers in eastern, western, and coastal regions who were recruited to grow the plant. I’m not sure what happened. What I can say is that around the same time, General Motors also experimented on Jatropha-based biofuel. There is potential, now how do we gather enough interest to create an opportunity?

Perhaps now is the time to review and possibly revive these discussions, given the energy crisis in the global economy. We require good policies and scientific studies to drive commercially viable Jatropha-based biodiesel manufacturing success.

The writer is a communications consultant