Biofuel on the News

Friday, December 15, 2006

Indonesia set to unlock jatropha shrub as biofuel

12/15/06 10:07 - ANTARA News

Jakarta - Indonesia may be the first country in the world to commercially use biofuel produced from jatropha, a hardy drought-resistant shrub that produces an oil convertible into fuel, a Dutch expert said on Thursday.

The plant, which is believed to originate from South America, already grows wild in parts of Indonesia.More than than 25 million hectares (62 million acres) of land, an area bigger than the United Kingdom, could be suitable for jatropha in Indonesia, said Professor H.J. Heeres, who heads a programme researching the field at the University of Groningen.

"My feeling is at the moment Indonesia could be the first in the world to introduce jatropha (commercially)," said Heeres.

He highlighted the potential in Indonesia to use biofuel produced from jatropha to power small generators.

In a bid to drum up interest in the area and prove the biofuel's potential, National Geographic Indonesia magazine earlier this year sponsored an 8-day expedition using jatropha oil to power vehicles driving across the sprawling country.

Heeres, whose research programme is twinned with one at Indonesia's Bandung Institute of Technology, said the performance of the car using pure jatropha was comparable to regular diesel, using only about 10 percent more fuel.

The chemical engineer also noted encouraging sounds from the Indonesian government in the area.Indonesia, Asia Pacific's only OPEC member, is keen to cut a hefty oil subsidy bill inflated by high global prices by encouraging alternative sources of energy.

"Yes, the government is very, very supportive, at least in words," he told Reuters.

Effendi Sirait, the Indonesian industry ministry's official in charge of biofuel development, said last month that the government planned to produce just over 15,000 tonnes of biofuels from jatropha by the end of 2007.

While the government focuses on jatropha as a feedstock, the bulk of Indonesia's biofuel production will come from palm oil-based biodiesel produced by the private sector.

Heeres said he felt that jatropha could compete with alternative green fuels such as palm oil, despite some concerns aired by other experts questioning whether its yields were high enough to make it economic.

"We have the feeling it will be competitive to palm oil."

The Dutchman said another advantage of jatropha was that it let more light through compared with a dense palm oil canopy so that other crops such as tomatoes could be grown together.

Jatropha, a shrub which normally grows 3-5 metres (10-16 ft) was suitable for many areas of Indonesia, including Kalimantan, Sumatra, as well as Java and Papua, he said. It can also be grown on land damaged by fire and over cultivation.

Plant nurseries for jatropha, which is non-edible although has traditionally had medical uses, were being developed in Kupang on west Timor island and in western Jakarta, he said.

Local companies with commercial plans in this area include Bio-chem Indonesia and PT Trakindo Utama. (*)

Originally posted in Antara (