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The Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) is exploring the possibility of utilising the seeds of the jatropha plant to produce bio-diesel for the local automotive industry.
Group Managing Director of the PCJ, Dr. Ruth Potopsingh, speaking at a recent Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals (JIEP)-organised public lecture and panel discussion at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, said that the Corporation has conducted some research on the jatropha and the findings to date reveal that it is “one of the most productive oil seeds for bio-diesel.”
She noted that the entity had looked into the prospects of using castor beans, and experimented with same, pointing out that “we have had very good yields.”
“But we have been advised by the Brazilians, who we got the seeds from, that castor oil is not a very good source for bio-diesel, unless it is mixed in with other oils because of its density and cetane levels for meeting bio-diesel or diesel specifications,” Dr. Potopsingh outlined. Cetane is a colourless liquid used as a solvent in determining the ignition quality of diesel fuels.
She said that “jatropha, on the other hand, is a better oil that is more compatible for blending in regular petroleum diesel, because we are looking, first, for a B2, a mixture of two per cent bio-fuels, rather than trying to go beyond that. A two per cent mix is acceptable for use in most diesel vehicles. So Jatropha is one of the most recommended oil seeds for bio-diesel production,” the PCJ head stated.
She informed that the PCJ has cultivated jatropha seedlings at one of its properties in Font Hill, St. Elizabeth, “which we will be growing under scientific conditions to see how productive they are.”
“We are growing the jatropha on marginal soils because there is the whole issue of food security versus energy security, and we have been very mindful not to be targeting soils that can be used for productive agricultural use,” Dr. Potopsingh pointed out.
The jatropha plant is native to Central America, where it is grown on plantations, largely in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Over time, it became naturalised in many tropical and sub-tropical countries, including India, Africa, North America, and the Caribbean. Major jatropha projects are being developed in Haiti, with seedlings being cultivated and grown between that country and the Dominican Republic.
When jatropha seeds are crushed, the oil derived can be processed to produce a high-quality bio-diesel, that can be used in a standard car. The resulting residue, commonly known as press cake, can also be processed and used as bio-mass feedstock to power electricity plants, or as a fertiliser in agriculture, as it contains nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.