Jatropha oil in stead of gas-oil

Mar 05, 2001 01:00 AM

Scientific studies have proved that the Jatropha curcas plant creates a positive reciprocity between energy production and environmental/food production. It is a drought resistant plant, living up to 50 years and growing on marginal soils. Whereas some countries have taken full advantage of the multiple use of the plant and are reaping its full benefits, Ghana seems to be the missing link.
Currently Ghana spends millions of dollars on oil imports annually, when this simple plant could be cultivated to produce fuel for powering rural industries, as is the case in Mali. In this third write we bring you the economic uses of the plant and countries in which it has been fully utilised. The Jatropha curcas is a plant of Latin American origin which is now widespread throughout arid and semi arid tropical regions of the world.
In West Africa, Mali is reported to be the leading producer of jotropha seeds and its by products. Currently Mali has about 10,000 km of Jatropha hedges with a growth rate of2,000 km per year. This represents a total of 5 mm litres of oil per year. A study titled the 'Jatropha Project of Mali'by the German Technical Assistance (GTZ) shows that Jatropha curcas is generally well known among the populations of Mali and has been recognised as a plant of many uses.
If carefully cultivated jatropha hedges not only protect gardens from hungry livestock, it also reduces damage and erosion from wind and water. Traditionally, the seeds were harvested by women and used for medical treatment and soap production.

The study showed that as back as the 1930s oil from the seed had been recognised as a potential source of fuel. Currently it can be used to substitute for the 'gas-oil' mixture used in the Indian type diesel engines that drive grain mills and water pumps in the rural areas of Mali.
The high quality oil extracted by engine-driven expellers or manual ram- presses may be mixed with some of the extraction by-products and used for large scale soap making in rural areas, giving local women the chance to gain income and thus strengthen their economic power. Its product can also be used as a high-grade organic fertiliser, according to the study.
Perhaps, this is one project the newly created Women's Ministry will have to initiate to create jobs for women. Women need to be educated on its uses and encouraged to exploit its potentials. Elsewhere in Germany, there's been a continued testing of a VW Rabbit automobile with Jatropha oil.
The VW test car is set up for dual fuelling. In its present form, the car must be switched from vegetable oil to diesel operation about ten minutes or five miles prior to its shut down at the end of the day to ensure cold starting the following day. The test vehicle has run 18.623 km since the conversion, or 341 hours total engine operating time. Two hundred and twenty of the total hours were fuelled with Jatropha.

In Tanzania, Erwin Protzen and Jonathan Otto started the development of jatropha-fuelled cooker and a lamp. The prototypes of both units are working well. During the 'Better World Workshop' in 1998, Carl Bielenberg' a German, published a description and an economic analysis of village electrification using locally produced Jatropha curcas oil.
"Small autonomous village electrification projects can be implemented at a small fraction of the cost required to extend grid electrification to rural areas... we envision distribution within a small radius, probably no more than 500 mm from a centrally located generator."
The GTZ study lists four main aspects of development viz.: Renewable energy, erosion control and soil improvement, promotion of women and poverty reduction, which combine to provide job opportunities for rural folk.

Renewable energy
In the rural areas of Mali, lister-type engines are used to drive grain mills and water pumps. These inexpensive pre-combustion chamber diesel engines of Indian origin require only the addition of a fuel filter to be run on pure Jatropha oil, thus eliminating the need for gas-oil entirely. At maximal load conditions, the Jatropha oil gives even better results than gas-oil because of its oxygen content. In equal terms, the energy needed to produce Jatropha oil in mechanical process amounts to less than 10 % of the oil obtained. Because of its inexpensive mode of production it can be sold at prices lower than gas-oil's official price.

Erosion control and soil improvement
Jatrpoha fences in Mali, not only control straying animals, they also reduce wind erosion and if planted parallel to slopes to fix small earth or stone dams, they help control water erosion. The plant's roots grow close to the ground surface, anchoring the soil like miniature earth bunds. These bunds effectively slow surface runoff during heavy downpour, thus causing more water to penetrate into the soil. The press cake, which remains after oil extraction, has proved an effective organic manure, with mineral composition equal to those of chicken.
This supports agriculture in Sahelian countries. The Malian cotton growing company, CMDT uses Jatropha hedges to ensure a programme of improved fallow: the cotton fields are protected with Jatropha hedge to keep out cattle, while the fields are sown with legumes to improve soil fertility.

Promotion of women
Many government and non-governmental organisations provide rural Malian women with engine-driven grain mills to ease their work of food preparation. However, running the mills on petroleum products tends to be very expensive. By using locally produced Jatropha oil as fuel and lubrication oil, some of these cash outflow from the village have been stopped. Traditionally, rural women used Jatropha curcas for medicine and for soap production. When machine-produced, Jatropha oil products are used, either alone or in combination with other local plant oils such as sheabutter, larger amounts of a more refined soap are produced. The women easily sell this soap in local markets and nearby towns, thus increasing their possibilities of earning income with local resources.

Poverty reduction
The study notes that by promoting the integrated utilisation of the Jatropha plant, it can provide direct financial benefits to the rural economy. Assume the average village of the pilot area has 15 km of Jatropha hedges, which represents 15 tons of seed or 3,000 litres of pure oil. These 15 tons of seed can be sold to the women's group that runs the grain mill and oil press, at a value of 750,000 FCFA to the sellers.
A thousand litres of the oil are used to as fuel by the women's groups, representing a value of 250,000 FCFA that stays in the village rather being on gas-oil. If the remaining 2000 litres are used for soap production, an additional income of about 900,000 FCFA is possible, for a total value of 19000,000 FCFA. Its is bout $ 3,800, which represents about 130 monthly rural incomes for a village with about 1000 people or 50 to 70 families.
Fortunately for Ghana, the Northern Regions have the same climatic conditions as Mali. And if Mali is utilising the Jatropha plant as an alternative fuel, why can't Ghana do the same? The study from Mali shows beyond all doubt that women stand to benefit most from the Jatropha plant. The onus lies with the Women's Ministry, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and the Ministry of Energy to encourage the mass production of the diesel-producing, multi-purpose Jatropha plant as part of the government's plans to turn the economy around.

Source: Africa.com
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