Jatropha roars back

Government has revived the jatropha programme, which is critical in the fight against climate change, and is actively looking for a technical partner.

Jatropha, a drought resistant crop that tolerates high-moisture stress conditions and produces seeds for up to 30 years, is an ideal sustainable feedstock for producing biodiesel.

In Zimbabwe, the jatropha project was initially launched in 2005, but ran into problems in its infancy amid reports that the cost of extracting the biodiesel was higher than the eventual cost price.

But last year, indications were that biodiesel was being produced at US$0,78c, amid expectations that if improvements in processing were achieved, the production cost could recede to US$0,78c.

Due to a surge in international oil prices, regular diesel was trading at US$1,29 per litre by last Friday, making a strong case for biodiesel production.

The teething problems saw biodiesel processing plants in Mount Hampden, 18 kilometres north of Harare, becoming white elephants because of lack of jatropha seeds.

The biodiesel project is so critical such that Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe channelled Z$3 billion (US$12 million) towards it between 2005 and 2012 to support it.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, Mr Partson Mbiriri, told the Portfolio Committee on Energy last week that the project is now back on the rails.

Mr Mbiriri said the project could have been at an advanced stage by now had it not been stalled by bickering during the inclusive Government.

A former MDC-T senior official, Mr Elton Mangoma, was Minister of Energy and Power Development during the inclusive Government.

“The jatropha programme was politicised. During the Government of National Unity, Energy (Ministry) was under the MDC party. They envisaged jatropha as a rural project, which benefited one political party,” said Mr Mbiriri.

“The programme is now certainly well underway. I don’t have timelines (of when the project would be completed). It has taken time for people to accept the reality that the programme is back.

“The programme has been re-introduced and it’s running. Biodiesel is being delivered as we speak. It will take some time, we are looking for a technical partner to embolden the programme so that we produce adequate quantities of biodiesel.”

The biodiesel is being produced by Finealt Engineering, a Government biodiesel processing firm.

Finealt Engineering is already delivering biodiesel to the National Oil and Infrastructure Company (NOIC), although the quantities could not be immediately ascertained.

However, Mr Mbiriri conceded that the quantities do not match expectations mainly because people are now reluctant to jump back on the jatropha programme due to past “political experiences”.

Government remains interested in the jatropha programme as it dovetails with the National Biofuels Policy, which seeks to make it mandatory for diesel to be blended with biodiesel by 2020.

The policy also dictates that biodiesel should contribute up to 2 percent of the country’s diesel requirements.

Currently, the country is consuming 2,6 million litres of diesel per day, implying that biodiesel would be contributing 78 000 litres.

Mr Mbiriri believes the country is poised to achieve the national expectations although he admits that the pace is not fast enough.

Said Mr Mbiriri: “To me, really, the policy issues are very clear and certainly we are moving towards that target.”

Zimbabwe is pushing the biodiesel and ethanol projects in sync with the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement connected to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted in 1997 before coming into force in 2005.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, a country commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to curb the effects of climate change.

In the first commitment period, 37 industrialised nations committed to slashing greenhouse gas emissions to an average 5 percent against the 1990 levels.

Parties later committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 18 percent below 1990 levels in the period 2013 to 2020.

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