Partnership formed to launch biodiesel research project

KINGSTON, Jamaica: A $10.3 million research partnership agreement for a biodiesel pilot project, using Jamaican oilseed-bearing plants to produce fuel, was signed last Friday between the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica’s Centre of Excellence for Renewable Energy (PCJ CERE) and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).

The aim of the project is to assess the viability of producing biodiesel for the automotive industry from locally grown jatropha and castor. Six acres of the plants are to be cultivated at CARDI’s Sam Motta Demonstration Farm, Manchester, to supply the seeds.

Jatropha is an oilseed-bearing tree that grows on marginal lands in tropical and sub-tropical regions. When the seeds are crushed, the oil derived from it can be processed to produce a high-quality biodiesel fuel used in standard cars. Castor is an oilseed plant, also used as a laxative by Jamaicans, which can produce biodiesel from the castor oil.

Acting Group Managing Director at the PCJ, Nigel Morgan, said he hoped the partnership will help Jamaica to forge ahead with its development of biofuels and, by extension, its energy diversification.

Morgan said due to Jamaica’s dependence on oil, it must remain committed to diversifying “the energy mix”, using natural resources which are feasible and economical.

Acting manager at CERE, Denise Tulloch, said the PCJ will invest 60 per cent of the funding and CARDI will provide the remaining 40 per cent in “in kind” support. PCJ has already procured plant seeds from Brazil, India and China as well as Jamaica.

CARDI’s entomologist, Dionne Clarke Harris, said her organization would be providing the six acres of land needed for the project, as well as technical assistance. The project is expected to run from February 2011 to January 2014.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has also provided funding support of US$50,000.

The research and development phase of the project will involve the cultivation and harvesting of six varieties of the oil nuts, to determine their oil content, harvesting potential and relative productivity. The oil nuts will be cultivated on mined-out bauxite lands between April 2011 and March 2014.

Morgan said that if the feedstock varieties are productive, a biodiesel blend becomes a serious possibility and, with the continued support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and a framework of a draft biofuels policy, Jamaica should be able to introduce biodiesel to the transport sector.

Jamaica has made some strides in the biofuels industry in recent years with the successful introduction of ethanol into the fuel mix, and with E10 87 and E10 90 octane gasoline being sold at service stations.

Biodiesel is a cleaner-burning diesel replacement fuel made from natural, renewable, agricultural resources and, like petroleum diesel, can operate in combustion-ignited engines including cars, trucks, heavy equipment and boats. It can also be used in oil-based home heating systems.

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