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Jatropha Oil: Ghana’s Next Potential Source of Biofuel

BioRefineries, Biorefinery Infrastructure, Business News/Analysis, Farming/Growing, Feedstocks, Field/Orchard/Plantation Crops/Residues, Ghana, Green Jobs, Infrastructure, Marketing/Markets and Sales, Nigeria, Opinions, Original Writing, Opinions Advanced Biofuels USA, Policy, R & D Focus, Small scale biorefineries, Sustainability
November 28, 2016

by Theophilus Kumah* (Advanced Biofuels USA) With the issue of biofuels and renewable energy making waves all over the globe, it is therefore not surprising when Africa (particularly Ghana) is not left out on investing in the future of energy. Biomass is the primary source of energy in African countries, used mostly as wood fuel and charcoal for home cooking, lighting and heating.  However, liquid biofuels, such as ethanol, biodiesel and straight vegetable oil (SVO) account for a small share of the supplies.[1]

Women in Ghana processing shea butter using jatropha oil-powered multipurpose unit.

Women in Northern Ghana processing jatropha for oil to power multifunctional platform used in shea butter processing.  Photo Source: Modern Ghana; by Daily Guide, 2009

In Ghana, wood fuels in the form of charcoal and firewood constitute more than 70 per cent of primary energy sources while crude oil and hydro take the remaining less than 30 percent.

Biofuels have a wide range of sources from food supply crops (first generation sources) to non-food supply (second generation sources). This article focuses on one of the second generation sources which shows some of the greatest potential: Jatropha (Jatropha curcas L.)

Jatropha (Jatropha Curcas L.) which belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family, originates from Central America but can now be found throughout the tropics, including Africa and Asia. The jatropha plant can grow in wastelands and grows on any terrain, even on gravelly, sandy and saline soils. It is known to thrive in poor and stony soils, although new research suggests that the plant’s ability to adapt to these conditions is not as extensive as stated earlier. Jatropha plant is normally used as an ornamental for its continuously blossoming crimson flowers. It is also important to note that jatropha seeds are considered toxic as they contain toxalbumin curcin, which is very poisonous and inhibits protein synthesis.

Fruits of Jatropha Curcas Photo: Sabina Anokye Mensah

Fruits of Jatropha Curcas Photo: Sabina Anokye Mensah

Considering its socio-economic benefits as a fuel, jatropha could be more economical when grown on commercial plantation scale than when cultivated on small plots. Some factors that influence seed yield are soil fertility, climatic conditions, irrigation, cultivation methods and farm management practices. This shows that when adequate attention is given to commercial plantation scale cultivation of jatropha as compared to just growing it commonly, one can be assured of a higher seed yield. For example, a hectare of jatropha plantation is reported to yield 2.5-3.5 tonnes of seeds in the third year and the yield increases sharply to 5000-12,000 tonnes per hectare from the sixth year onwards.[2] Correspondingly, the seeds have an oil yield of between 1-4 tonnes/ hectare when rain fed and 2.5-12 tonnes/ hectare when irrigated.

In terms of the economic worth, an analysis was conducted with a comparison between jatropha oil and kerosene in Ghana in 2010. Whilst the costs of jatropha oil and kerosene were estimated to be US$0.085/liter and US$1.23/liter respectively, the cost of biodiesel from jatropha oil and petroleum diesel were estimated at US$0.99/liter and US$1.21/liter respectively.[3]

Jatropha seeds. Photo: Sabina Anokye Mensah

Jatropha seeds. Photo: Sabina Anokye Mensah

So the question remains: With so much potential, why is jatropha struggling to reach the high expectations as a biofuel source?

Opportunities for the use of Jatropha

General factors which hinder the use of fossil fuels like depletion of easily accessible oil supplies; higher cost of extracting oil from deep oceans; rapid growth in demand for energy in developing countries; concerns over global climate change as well as desire for increased energy have paved way for biofuels to receive the attention it deserves.

Women in Northern Ghana extracting oil from Jatropha seeds. Photo Sab

Women in Northern Ghana manually extracting oil from Jatropha seeds. Photo: Sabina Anokye Mensah 2009

In Ghana, jatropha is already being cultivated in the Northern part of the country. Women from this part of the country engaged in shea butter production, use jatropha oil in place of diesel in the multi-functional platforms (MFPs) comprising shea butter press, dehuller and the mill. Since it’s quite cheaper to use jatropha oil in these MFPs, commercial cultivation of jatropha and subsequent extraction of the oil for such purposes are done in the rural northern Ghana to empower women in the area of job creation.[4]

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, sub-Saharan Africa has more than 1 billion hectares of land with potential for rain-fed crop production.[5] Jatropha cultivation on a commercial scale, considering the available hectares of land, could provide prospects of a new cash crop for farmers, increased employment in rural areas, reduced fuel import costs, and foreign exchange earnings.

Jatropha, used to produce biodiesel, could be ranked the second most popular biofuel source behind sugarcane used to produce ethanol. Owing to the popularity of sugarcane in Brazil, there is a well-established technology for producing ethanol which could be adopted by any investor in Africa. On the same basis, different technologies for the production of biodiesel from jatropha are in the pipeline and likewise any potential investor could be confident when adopting those processes.

Challenges Associated with the Use of Jatropha

It is more expensive to produce biofuels in general than to produce petroleum derived fuels. To bring parity between the costs of producing biofuels and the cost of producing petroleum derived products some authors have suggested the removal of all subsidies on petroleum derived fuels whiles others have argued for the introduction of subsidies and incentives on biofuel production.

Other challenges that might arise are the environmental impact of expanded crop production and manufacturing of biofuels, the land use conflicts that arise from expanded crop production, and the need for government support to smallholders so they can participate in and benefit from expanded biofuel production. When these challenges are adequately handled, the potential of jatropha as biofuel could be maximized.

Policy Framework

It is interesting to note that Ghana has an energy policy which could provide the backing the biofuel industry needs to excel.

The Strategic National Energy Policy (SNEP) on the development of biofuels followed recommendations made by the Biofuels Committee was set up in 2005.[6] Among their recommendations were:

  • 20 per cent of national gasoline consumption replaced with biodiesel by 2015
  • 30 per cent of national kerosene consumption replaced with jatropha oil by 2015
  • Removal of institutional barriers

It is important to note that biodiesel and jatropha are the only biofuels that were mentioned in the policy. It is therefore necessary for legislators to mention the other biofuels like bioethanol, biogas, etc. to widen the scope of the policy.

SNEP[7] may have considered the recommendations too ambitious and therefore adopted the following targets:

  • 10 per cent penetration of liquid fuels by renewable and alternative fuel by 2015 expanding to reach 20 per cent by 2020
  • To become self-sufficient in petroleum products by 2015 and net exporter by 2020

In order to achieve the target of 10 and 20 per cent substitution of liquid fuels by 2015 and 2030 respectively, a road map was drawn to introduce B5 (a mixture of 5 per cent biodiesel and 95 per cent diesel) and E10 (a mixture of 10 per cent ethanol and 90 per cent petrol) onto the market by the end of 2008 but this target is under review.

One can say the deadlines in the policy were not adhered to. However, there is no doubt that the content of the policy would be a good start for the country to receive its fair share of the new revolution.

Oladunjoye A. Waleola at the Jatropha nursery site in Oyo State. (04/08/2015).

Oladunjoye A. Waleola at the Jatropha nursery site in Oyo State, Nigeria. Photo: OA Waleola (04/08/2015).

Nigerian Example

Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is making plans to commence large scale commercial biofuel venture where jatropha is going to be cultivated along the borders of over 5,000 km of NNPC pipelines across the country[8]. Nigeria, one of Ghana’s peer countries, is setting the pace for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa to follow.

It is recommended that if Jatropha should get the same level of attention given to ethanol from sugarcane or lignocellulosic biomass, jatropha could be extracted in commercial quantities. Its commercial production could then propel Ghana to make significant strides in the biofuel sector as spelt out in its energy policy.

From L-R Mr. Kehinde (Field Worker) and Mr. Oladunjoye A. Waleola(M.D) Avandith Renewable Energy Ltd. Nig. During soaking of Jatropha seeds in readiness for planting at Oyo State. (26/01/2009).

From L-R Mr. Kehinde (Field Worker) and Mr. Oladunjoye A. Waleola(M.D) Avandith Renewable Energy Ltd. Nig. During soaking of Jatropha seeds in readiness for planting at Oyo State. Photo: OA Waleola (26/01/2009).

 

[1] Mitchell D., Biofuels in Africa :Opportunities, Prospects and Challenges

[2] Henning R. K., Combating Desertification: The Jatropha project in Mali, West Africa

[3] Ofori-Boateng C., Lee K. T., Feasibility of Jatropha oil for biodiesel: Economic Analysis

[4] [4] Ofori-Boateng C., Lee K. T., Feasibility of Jatropha oil for biodiesel: Economic Analysis and  Mensah, Sabina Anokye, Jatropha Oil Production as Biofuel for Shea Butter Processing Machine in Ghana: Quality Characteristics and Storability of the Derived
Shea Butter (Doctoral Thesis)  See also: http://en.calameo.com/books/001423804df2e59206018

[5] FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). 2008. The State of Food and Agriculture 2008: Biofuels: Prospects, Risks and Opportunities. Rome: FAO.

[6] Energy Policy Act of 2005, Public Law 109-58-August 8, 2005

[7] Energy Commission, Strategic National Energy Plan 2006-2020 and Ghana Energy Policy, Main

Version, Energy Commission, 2006

[8] Read full story www.advanvedbiofuelsusa.info/nnpc-to-commence-commercial-bio-fuel-project-in-nigeria-says-gmd/ and https://advancedbiofuelsusa.info/benefits-and-ordeals-of-a-biofuel-project-in-nigeria/

*Theophilus Kumah brings his chemical engineering degree from Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and his interest in innovations for biofuels in Ghana to serve as a researcher and writer for Advanced Biofuels USA.

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roadmap rocket fuel Romania RON (Research Octane Number) rotation crops royalties RSF2 RTP (rapid thermal processing) rubber rumen ruminants rural development Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Rural Energy Self-Sufficiency Initiative Russia Russian olive rutabaga Rwanda rye Rye grass s saccharification Safer and Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles (SAFE) safety safflower sago sago pond weed SAIC SAK sales Salicornia salt-tolerant saltbush saltcedar sal tree salt water Sanctions Santa Monica sardine oil Saskatchewan Saudi Arabia sawdust scale up Scandinavia scholarships/fellowships Science Advisory Board (SAB) Science Policy Scotland scum sea level rise seashore mallow seawater Seaweed/Macroalgae seaweed cultivation Section 526 Securiti Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) seed husks Senegal Serbia sesame sewage Seychelles shale gas shale oil sheep shipping shipping containers shipworm Sierra Leone silica Silphie/cup plant/Indian cup silver silver maple simarouba Singapore 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