Apr 18, 2016 BIH Articles, BIH News

Botswana to produce biodiesel from Jatropha Curcas

By: Dave Baaitse

Botswana’s search for renewable energy sources reduced dependency on fossil fuels and bolster sustainable development extends to the Japan Jatropha Research Project. The project is a joint venture between the two governments aimed at developing technical protocols and knowledge for production of and utilization of Jatropha biodiesel and biomass in Botswana through the establishment of cultivation methods suitable for Botswana’s climate. Dave Baaitse writes about the country’s production of biodiesel from Jatropha.

Jatropha curcas is a species of flowering plants in the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae that is native to the American tropics, most likely Mexico and Central America. It is cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, becoming naturalised in some areas.

The Japan Jatropha Research Project seeks to curb the country’s high dependence on fossil fuels and reduce the country’s petroleum fuel import bill. The five year project which started in 2012 also addresses the fuel acquisition of the next generation in the post –fossil fuel period.

The project further seeks to accumulate and establish technical knowledge and experience to produce Jatropha biodiesel in Botswana on commercial basis.

Two Japanese experts dispatch collaborate with the Botswana counterparts to undertake activities including establishing Jatropha farming protocols suitable for Botswana’s climate, establishing bases for developing high-yield and stress tolerant Jatropha varieties and clarifying characteristics of Jatropha oil products.

The project has acquired a one hector plot in Sebele where Jatropha trees are grown. The target is to get a yield of 100kg of seeds which at most can produce 25 liters of oil. Jatropha trees can be harvested several times per season.

The experts are also working on developing technologies to utilise non-oil Jatropha biomass as well as environmental, social and economic evaluation of the impact of Jatropha production and biomass use. The government of Japan through their Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been contributing towards Botswana’s social, economic and human resources development.

With the project in its third year, Chief Advisor Yudai Ishimoto said commercial production is problematic at the moment due to draught and frost conditions prevalent at the country.

He says the total budget for production is P3 million per hector. He said test sites are already in production across the country in places like Kasane, Maun and Molepolole areas.

The significance of Jatropha curcas production is that it has high expectation on bio-fuel alternative energy to limited fossil fuel. It is carbon neutral; emitted carbon dioxide is fixed in advance, total Co2 emissions are no fluctuation.

Many small scale farmers out of power grid consume firewood and charcoal as fuel. At the end of the project the research objective is to develop high yield and stress tolerant Jatropha varieties; to clarify characteristics of Jatropha oil products, to develop technologies of utilising non-oil Jatropha’s biomass and to evaluate social economical and environmental impacts of Jatropha bio-energy production.

Through the JICA technical cooperation Japanese experts are dispatched to developing countries to disseminate necessary technologies and knowledge to Botswana government officials (counterparts). At the same time, they cooperate with these counterparts in developing and spreading technologies and institutions suited Botswana as well as conducting awareness raising activities.

Through the ODA loans they support Botswana by providing low interest. Long term and concessional funds to finance their development efforts. ODA loans can be applied to improve economic and social infrastructure such as electricity, gas transportation and communication services.

They have since funded Trans Kalahari Road Project (1994 – 1998), North South Carrier Water Project (1995 – 2001) as well as the Kazungula Bridge Construction Project (2012 – 2018). The project constructs a 923m road –rail cum bridge linking Botswana and Zambia over the Zambezi River to replace the existing ferry. It also includes a total of 5km approach roads and one stop border posts on both sides.

Fossil fuels are the major energy source that are being used in the world today. But there over-consumption can lead to serious environmental issues such as air pollution. Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide etc. when burnt that can have severe consequences on the habitats. They are non-renewable sources of energy as they are derived from pre-historic fossils and won’t be available once they are fully used. Their sources are limited and they are depleting at a faster rate.

Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels

  • Environmental Hazards: Environmental pollution is one of the major disadvantage of fossil fuels. It is a known fact that carbon dioxide, gas released when fossil fuels are burnt, is one of the primary gas responsible for global warming. Rise in temperature of earth has resulted in melting of polar ice caps, flooding of low lying areas and rise in sea levels. If such conditions continue, our plant Earth might face some serious consequences in near future.
  • Rising Prices: Middle-east countries have huge reserves of oil and natural gas and many other countries are dependent on them for constant supply of these fuels. Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a group of 13 countries including Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE. They are responsible for 40 percent of the world’s oil production and hold the majority of the world’s oil reserves, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). OPEC constantly monitors the volume of oil consumed and then adjusts its own production to maintain its desired barrel price. This results in worldwide price fluctuations, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Acid Rain: Sulphur dioxide is one of the pollutant that is released when fossil fuels are burnt and is a main cause of acid rain. Acid rain can lead to destruction of monuments made up of brickwork or marbles. Even crops can affected due to acidification of loams. Coal mining results in destruction of ecosystems and also endangers the lives of mineworkers.
  • Effect on Human Health: Pollution from vehicles and coal powered power plants can cause serious environmental hazards. Pollution related diseases range from mild to severe and can significantly affect one’s quality of life. Air pollution can result in asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or COPD and lung cancer. Long-term exposure may increase respiratory infections in general population. Children and the elderly are most vulnerable to fine particulate matter and other airborne toxicants.
  • Non-Renewable: As of today, fossil fuels are being extracted at an exorbitant rate to meet the gap between demand and supply and it is estimated that they will be finished in next 30-40 years. Since they are non-renewable, it is more likely that fuel expenses will face a steep hike in near future. It would take millions of years to replace coal, and oil, and this means that we will not be able drive cars anymore unless we switch to electric cars that use energy from renewable energy sources. This means once these non-renewable sources are completely used up, there is nothing more left.
  • Impact on Aquatic Life by Oil Spill: Fossil fuels are needed in huge reserves wherever their plants are set up. This requires them to be transported to the desired location via truck, train, ship or airplane. Often we hear of some leaks in oil tankers or ship getting drowned deep under the sea that were carrying crude oil to get refined. The impact of this is that crude oil contains some toxic substances which when mixed up with water poses serious impact on aquatic life. Transportation of crude oil via sea can cause oil spill which can pose hazard to the aquatic life by lessening the oxygen content of water.
  • Coal Mining: Extraction of coal from areas that have huge reserves is not only a difficult and dangerous task but also poses a serious health hazard to the lives of several workers who work there. The coal mining destroys wide areas of land and results in ecological imbalance.
  • Need Huge Amount of Reserves: The coal power plants requires huge and regular supply of coal to produce large amount of energy on a constant basis. This means that these plants need train-loads of fuel near power stations to carry out the process of generating power. This is needed as many countries are still dependent on coal as a major source for producing power.

Technologies to get more out of the earth are progressing, but they don’t seem to be doing it as quickly as our demand is growing. In addition, while coal is much more abundant than oil, extraction of coal can be very unsafe, and is damaging to the environment on a large scale, causing erosion, acidification of the environment, and destruction of wild lands. Though the fossil fuels meet our energy and fuel needs, still it’s a high time to look forward for the alternative renewable sources of energy such as wind turbines, solar panels, tidal generators and compost. As said by a great man, there is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.