PCJ Biodiesel Blend to Cut Oil Imports and Boost Agricultural Sector

Photo: Contributed Group General Manager of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), Winston Watson.

Story Highlights

  • Jamaica could save hundreds of millions in energy costs per year, while reducing the country’s reliance on imported fossil fuels and creating a boost for the agricultural sector through the introduction of a B5 biodiesel blend.
  • The Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), the agency of Government dedicated to pursuing the development of Jamaica’s energy resources, has developed the blend for use in the transport sector.
  • Project Engineer for Biofuels at PCJ, Niconor Reece, explains that the castor oil was selected to produce the blend due to the pervasiveness of the castor plant in Jamaica and its adaptability to a variety of soil types.

Jamaica could save hundreds of millions in energy costs per year, while reducing the country’s reliance on imported fossil fuels and creating a boost for the agricultural sector through the introduction of a B5 biodiesel blend.

The Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), the agency of Government dedicated to pursuing the development of Jamaica’s energy resources, has developed the blend for use in the transport sector.

The oil, derived from castor seed, is processed to produce a high-quality fuel for use in diesel-engine vehicles.

PCJ’s Group General Manager, Winston Watson, tells JIS News that the unique blend has the potential to replace 97,000 barrels of imported oil, significantly cutting the country’s annual energy bill.

The PCJ anticipates that replacement of the diesel currently being used with its B5 blend could save the country about $540 million per year in imports alone.

“We are fairly optimistic that…our B5 blend of biofuel will be an affordable option for driving energy efficiency in the transportation sector,” Mr. Watson says.

The biodiesel formula is the latest innovation by the Corporation in its efforts to develop the local alternative energy sector.

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

Mr. Watson points out that due to the natural components of the B5 blend, it will have a nominal impact on the environment.

“This is very good for the clean energy sector. Because the castor oil comes from plants, essentially what will happen is that we will be growing more trees and that will reduce greenhouse gases as well in terms of the trees absorbing CO2 (carbon dioxide),” he tells JIS News.

“But what is more important is that when you use the castor oil, it reduces the sulphur. Because it has less sulphur, when you mix it with regular diesel, it reduces the amount of sulphur, which reduces the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” he explains further.

The PCJ Manager anticipates that the project will also create a boost within the local agricultural sector as farmers will be called upon to mass-cultivate the castor plant for commercial production of the fuel.

“The intention is to have satellite farms. If you have an acre of land, you can grow an acre of castor seeds. This will then be brought to a processing plant to produce the oil,” Mr. Watson points out.

The PCJ has been conducting small-scale vehicular trials of the B5 formula since January this year. Some 7,000kilometres of road miles have been logged so far.

Further research and refinement of the blend is being carried out by PCJ in collaboration with the University of Technology (UTech). A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is to be signed shortly between the two entities to concretise the arrangement.

Results from the research will be used to create a document to implement a biodiesel energy policy for the country.

Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Dr. the Hon. Andrew Wheatley, has hailed the collaboration between the entities.

“It’s really an excellent partnership. Castor oil is known for its energy generating potential and so it is that level of collaboration that we want to encourage among our local scientists and for them to continue to innovate,” he said.

Project Engineer for Biofuels at PCJ, Niconor Reece, explains that the castor oil was selected to produce the blend due to the pervasiveness of the castor plant in Jamaica and its adaptability to a variety of soil types.

The castor plant is a perennial crop, which grows wild in several parishes across the island.

“It is the premier seed to pursue biofuels … it is one of the crops that we know can grow in Jamaica on marginal lands, and if you add inputs such as fertiliser and irrigation, then the yield will be even more significant,” he points out.

Mr. Reece notes that castor has additional benefits in terms of the versatility of the plant.

“The meal (residue remaining after the oil has been extracted) can be used as a fertiliser; we are doing some work with that as well. The meal can also be used as animal feed if it is processed correctly and the shell can be utilised for fuel if you run an extraction process.

“Similar to the sugar sector where you use all of the cane in the process, the same thing can be done with the castor. It is a complete plant. Based on those factors, we decided it is a good crop to pursue from a biofuels perspective,” Mr. Reece points out.

Other partner agencies on the project are the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries’ Planning Division, which conducted soil tests and assessments of land availability and climatic conditions across the country to determine the best environment for cultivation of the crop.

The Ministry’s Bodles Agricultural Research Station and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) conducted agronomic tests of several local and foreign varieties of the castor plant to facilitate wide-scale production and to determine optimal growing conditions and how to treat with diseases that affect the crop.

JIS Social