Nepal may not have the fossil fuel deposits to meet demand for diesel but some dependency on imports could be eased if serious initiatives were taken to produce our own bio-fuel. Crystal Bio Energy Nepal's jatropha farming is a step in this direction.
Jatropha curcas, locally known as sajiyon or ratanjot, or simply jatropha, is a plant the oil extracts of which have a chemical structure similar to that of mineral diesel. Many feel it is the perfect biodiesel crop, as its seeds have upto 40 per cent oil content. It can be grown in poor soils and does not demand careful nursing once planted. Jatropha farming has proved to be an alternative fuel solution in India, Cambodia and parts of Africa. Japan and New Zealand have even conducted successful flight tests using jatropha fuel.
Jatropha farming is being encouraged in Nepal as well. For the last three years, Crystal Bio Energy Nepal has been investing in jatropha. The company, in collaboration with local communities, has begun jatropha farming in 40 districts. It has been training farmers, too, and 70 million jatropha saplings are now growing on 10,000 hectares of land.
"Although the plants produce seeds from the first year on, we plan to let them grow for three years," says Ramesh Kumar Rai of Crystal Bio Energy. "Seed production will then be high enough to produce diesel on a bigger scale." The jatropha plants are now 18 months old, halfway to production.
A litre of pure diesel can be extracted from four kilos of jatropha seeds. After the first five years, the typical annual yield of a jatropha tree is 3.5 kg of seeds. Jatropha trees have a productive life of 30-40 years.
Besides Crystal Bio Energy, the Alternative Energy Promotion Center has been supporting 10 other organisations for jatropha farming. It has also helped set up biodiesel plants in Ramnagar (Chitwan) and Jhumsa (Palpa).
"We are at the initial phase right now," says Rai. "There is a need to develop commercial farming of jatropha and make it a sustainable fuel source."
Waste not, DEWAN RAI