Tag Archives: biodiesel

Jatropha’s Failure as a Biodiesel Feedstock Opens Opportunities in Rural Electrification

Only a few years ago Jatropha was considered to be the wonder biodiesel feedstock suitable for production by small scale farmers in poor soils and arid countries. It has not lived up to the hype and it will be years before it can compete agronomically with soya and it is not scalable to the refining industry’s needs under small scale farming. Small scale rural farmers are more easily integrated into Jatropha based electrification in underdeveloped rural areas.


The Jatropha Spin

Jatropha curcas, also known as the Physic nut, is a perennial poisonous shrub. It is an uncultivated non-food wild-species that grows easily in hedges and scattered around homesteads. It was spread from Central America to Africa by Portuguese traders who introduced it as a hedge material and a source of oil for light. Continue reading

Africa Biofuel – Tanzanian biofuel company

Africa Biofuel and Emission Reduction Company is focussed on bringing a triple-bottom-line biofuel business model to Africa.



from: Africa Biofuels
(click image for full story online)


Africa Biofuels set out to find a biofuel process that did not compete for a food or use agricultural land. It looked for a product that could actually enhance the environment and benefit the people of the area.

It identified Croton megalocarpus, an indigenous tree, as its focus.

There is detailed discussion of the project under the explanatory and news section of the website that promotes its arguments in detail.

In a quick scan and search I was unable to identify how the byproducts (oil cake and glycerine) are to be used and what income they will generate. This “income” and the cost of manual collection from wild trees are critical to the viability of the process. In fact I not find any costing or economics on the site but am taking that up via email.

Biofuels From Waste

With the increasing pressures on the production of biofuels from foods (ethanol from maize and biodiesel from edible oil) there is an increasing call for the production of biofuels from waste.

The Energy Challenge - Gassing Up With Garbage - Series - NYTimes.com-2.jpg

from: New York Times
(click image for full story online)


This above article in the New York Times notes that there are almost thirty plants in the implementation phase. However, it notes that none have succeeded and that most are looking for significant subsidies and grant funding to become viable, even with the vastly increased oil price.

It quotes Nobel Physics Lauriate, Steven Chu, as saying

We desperately need it, and I personally think it’s not there yet

You have to look at starts with a grain of salt, especially starts where they say, ‘It’s around the corner, and by the way, can you pay half the bill?’

UK Produced Biodiesel – Writing on The Wall

I wrote this some weeks ago but failed to post it because of my travels!

Two announcements – the closure of processing in the UK by D2 oil and the opening of a “micro biodiesel facility” that will use waste oil and jatropha oil by De-Ord Fuel indicate the over optimism around Jatropha and the uncertainty in the market.

De-Ord launches jatropha, waste oil biodiesel plant in England.jpg

from: Biofuels Digest
(click image for full story online)


De-Ord’s micro plant, which will produce only 4.5 million litres a year will distribute biodiesel directly to bus and truck fleets. This, along with careful raw material sourcing will apparently allow it to be sustainable and possibly become a model for other European installations.

On the other hand D1 Oils has had to close and sell off plant as they are unable to compete with US imports using rapeseed as a feedstock. They will therefore be concentrating on their Jatropha operations, which have been part of their business approach since their establishment. The fact that inputs are required to optimise Jatropha production and that full scale production, which seemed to be pretty much in control 2 years ago,

D1 Oils - Breeding & planting programme.jpg

is only due in 2011 are the realities compared to the hype that abounds in many projects.

Waste Oil to Biodiesel in Germany

A month or so I ago I posted a story on the use of waste streams as raw materials for processing. I noted that there were cases in the USA where waste oil products from restaurants had become so valued that crime and “fat lifting” had began.

Now Petrotec have opened a 100 000 tons per year plnt to process a range of feeds, using a multifeedstock technology developed by themselves, but currently mainly using waste oil. Petrotec is based in Germany and the plant which will act as a logistics hub for the company is installed in Emden.

Company portrait.jpg

from: Petrotec
(click image for full story online)


They have been operating other plant since 2000 and have not encountered waste oil supply problems – they do have a three pronged approach to ensuring their supply.

There have been attempts to use waste oil in South Africa but apparently the large black market trade in used oil, means that there is not sufficient waste oil to allow the establishment of viable enterprises.

Waste – only until there’s a use!

A while ago I posted a story about a project aimed at reducing post harvest losses. I noted that losses are often a consequence of imbalances between supply and demand. Without demand prices plummet and a crop effectively becomes a waste. There are also wastes connected to processing eg fruit peels. These wastes are either available free or at low cost depending on their location.

Projects that use these wastes as raw material often look extremely favourable but can quickly loose their feasibility if the demand for the waste allows the owner of the waste to increase its price.

Here is a documented case – waste oil from restaurants has trebled in price in three years as demand for it as a feed for biodiesel has increased

Used Fry Grease Rich Target For Grease Gangs…Seriously · Environmental Leader · Green Business, Sustainable Business, and Green Strategy News for Corporate Sustainability Executives.jpg

from: Environmental Leader
(click image for full story online)


Making Biofuels Work for the BoP

This is a particularly nice idea where the biodiesel can be used to meet simpler energy needs such as lamps, cooking stoves and unsophisticated generators.

Timbuktu Chronicles_ Making Biofuels Work for the BoP.jpg

from: Timbuktu Chronicles
(click image for full story online)


However, this blog addresses few of the issues that will impact on the achievement of sustainable operation of this type of small production, especially at the bottom of the pyramid.

Even the original article presents little more than concepts and ideas. A few of the issues:

  • A major quality problem arises when trying to use biodiesel in modern high technology engines. I am not sure that anyone can define where the difference comes between simple and sophisticated engines so doing it is a try & fail thing unfortunately – proper quality control and measurement is very expensive and not sensible on this kind of scale.
  • The statement that Jatropha is “cultivated extensively for pure plant oil (PPO) as feedstock for biodiesel fuel production in India and Africa” is a misconception based on many optimistic publications similar to this one. In fact there is little biodiesel production taking place and only limited firm data on Jatropha performance and yield, which is of course at the heart on any successful production.
  • The need to change fertilisation habits to give the byproduct of oil production a value is a significant undertaking.

A final thought – does the oil not burn anyway?

Diesel designed the diesel engine to operate on simple peanut oil, are we not complicating things by introducing the toxic chemicals and chemical wastes necessary for the reaction of the oil when we aren’t able to make the highest quality product.

The Biofuels Situation

Just a short comment, when the biofuels debate reaches the front page of Time magazine, it is surely significant.

TIME Magazine Cover_ The Clean Energy Myth - Apr. 7, 2008 - Energy - Oil - Global Warming.jpg

from: Time

(click image for full story online)

Although the contradictors are already at work, I feel we should all acknowledge that very massive and rapid change is happening that could have extremely serious consequences. If we do this it should be obvious that we should be striving for full and balanced understanding, rather than just promoting our particular perceptions and interests.

Remember that behind all this sits a very distorted system of politics/governance that drives subsidies and ridiculous practices such as “splash & dash” – if that doesn’t drive particular interests?

Demands for crackdown on biofuels scam | Environment | The Guardian.jpg

from: The Guardian

(click image for full story online)

Believe it or not 10% of the imports of biodiesel to Europe from USA are funded by a scheme where biodiesel exported to the US and blended with a “dash” of petrol attracts almost a dollar a gallon subsidy which makes the scheme profitable.

See an article from The Independent of almost a year ago and a blog of a day or two agofor some confirmation.

PS The Guardian story has internal links that give some simple information and great images on Biofuels.

Fourth Generation Biofuels

I’n now seeing articles about “fourth generation” biofuels, like the one below from Biopact, while I was still in the second generation.

Bioenergy pact between Europe and Africa.jpg

from Biopact

For those who are maybe as confused as I am, this is how I understand it it.

First Generation – these are the ones we all know and the industry is busy making money out of, turning carbohydrates and oils into ethanol and biodiesel. These are generally economic to do so long as their is some kind of subsidy where the efficiencies are poor eg ethanol from wheat in Europe.

The actual overall energy and environmental benefit of these is under discussion with competing analyses, but is anyway rather marginal. However, the largest negative that is coming through is the fact that in a world with starving people and rising food prices biofuels don’t make a lot of sense.

Second Generation – these are the ones that are doable but are still much too expensive for commercial implementation. They look at using waste products rather than food as their carbon source eg ethanol from maize stalks and biodiesel from flue gas.

Lignin and cellulose are basically the cell wall material of plants and are the most the basis for most of these kinds of processes and are the most plentiful organic compounds in nature eg grass, trees, timber wastes and food crop wastes all rich in lignocelluloses and offer the opportunity to provide biofuels without impacting on food availability.

Third Generation – these are based on the genetic manipulation of plants to produce dedicated energy crops that vastly improve the economics of second generation type conversions eg maize with its own enzymes to convert cellulose and wood with reduced lignin which would be a more efficient producer of ethanol.

These three generations of biofuels are seen to be “carbon neutral” in that they do not add to greenhouse gasses because the CO2 they release on combustion will be extracted from the atmosphere by the plants that are grown to produce the biofuel.

Fourth Generation – these technologies are based on new plants that would be able to absorb more CO2 than would be released on combustion by the biofuels produced from them. They would therefore actively reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Across the desert to Timbuktu in a car fuelled by chocolate

The Independent reported on two “environmental activists”Andy Pag and John Grimshaw who were setting out to drive from Dorset to Timbuktu in a car powered by chocolate waste.

They left their home town of Poole, Dorset, on a cross-Channel ferry yesterday. They are travelling in a Ford Iveco Cargo lorry powered by fuel which began life as chocolate, in an attempt to raise awareness of “green” biofuels. Their 4,500-mile (7,250 km) trip across the Sahara desert to Timbuktu in Mali should take about three weeks.The pair have taken with them a small processing unit to convert waste oil products into fuel, which they will then donate to an African charity, along with the lorry. They are taking 2,000 litres (454 gallons) of biodiesel made from 4,000kg (8,818lb) of chocolate misshapes – equivalent to 80,000 chocolate bars.

But they will not be able to dip into their tank if they feel peckish because biodiesel does not look or smell like ordinary chocolate. It is made from cocoa butter extracted from the waste chocolate.

The BBC showed a picture of the cargo lorry they are traveling in

Chocolate Powered Lorry to Timbuktu

It is interesting that this comes at a time of discussion in Africa about first generation biofuels and their role in Africa.

Its my own feeling that we have been discussing too long and have been left behind by the developments in Europe & USA, which are now revealing the problems. We should rather be focusing on second generation biofuels which don’t run the risk of taking food from the poor and use waste like this initiative.