Ugandan biofuel plant fights mosquitoes and oil price spikes

An innovative researcher in Uganda has created a biofuel plant whose oil is not only providing a cheap alternative for the Ugandans’ clay lamps, and the expensive candles, but also providing a free mosquito repellant in the wake of rising cases of malaria in the area. This even as it conserves the environment as it does not produce any smoke while burning, is non-flammable and burns 10 times longer than the conventional paraffin in the market.

The new oil is extracted from Jatropha tree seeds and is environmental friendly. Prompted by the need to cut over-reliance on the conventional sources of fuel like paraffin and diesel, Somu Nsibirwa a young innovative Ugandan researcher set out on a mission to bring a lasting solution to the fuel market while protecting the environment.

After three years of tireless efforts, Nsibirwa smiles about his sweet success. He explained to farmbizafrica, “I am happy that I am on the right track and I hope to mitigate the thorny issues like capital and source of raw materials by engaging like-minded individuals and in the long run will advance to the dream point of having bio-fuel that replaces diesel.”

The biofuel plant which is located in Nakifuma village in Mukono district currently extracts the oil manually with the plans being underway to install a more mechanically aided plant that will enable production increase more than ten times the current capacity. “Our manual plant’s current capacity is about 500litres per day which is way below the demand of the product,” he noted.

Once the seeds are harvested, they are dried for about three days depending on the prevailing weather conditions. They are then crushed to separate the shell from the fleshy part of the seed. The white fleshy body is then crushed thoroughly and left in a settling tank from which the oil is filtered into the packaging tank and packaged in various quantities. The oil is used in its original form without any additional additives.

The budding researcher explained that, the first milestone which was coming up with an alternative green energy fuel that could mitigate the environmental degradation and curb the harsh consequences of climate change was already achieved. “We can now think of increased production and meeting the market demand in the near future and this will entail procurement of better machineries but also sensitization from other agricultural stakeholders to encourage more farmers adopt the cultivation of Jatropha plant whose seeds are vital for the end product,” explained Nsibirwa.

Currently, the company has its own fields of Jatropha trees but also sources the seeds from a few out grower farmers mostly from the Northern Uganda although the supply is not reliable. This has forced them to even cross the borders and buy the seeds from other farmers in Tanzania and Kenya. The company buys a kilogram of dried Jatropha seeds at about Sh20. The tree was mainly popular among Uganda farmers during the times when Vanilla was deemed as a green gold but since the world market prices of vanilla plummeted, many farmers shunned it. It was used to provide support to the Vanilla plants.

The deciduous plant, which is drought tolerant, has a lifespan of over 50 years. The company has already planted the trees in about 200 acre piece of land it secured in Mukono district. Nsibirwa explained that this is in a bid to ensure constant supply of the seeds which is the raw material. Additionally Nsibirwa’s company has also sensitized and encouraged farmers in the country to adopt its cultivation as they provide a ready market for the seeds and so far they have garnered over 1000 farmers.

Nsibirwa explained that the plant is easy to manage as it does not demand any special farm inputs like foliar and fertilizer for it to flourish. “There is no pruning and the plant is resistant to any strains like dry weather but the beauty about is that we are also preserving our indigenous trees which are well known to be better in providing water catchment ability and therefore mitigate the constraints of deforestation.

The trees can also be intercropped with any crops like maize hence being ideal for any farmer in need of making economic gains out of farming. “The intercropping is also ensuring that we mitigate the opposition that biofuel itself is now attracting from those who argue that it will threaten food security in Sub Saharan Africa,” added Nsibirwa. The pests also shy away from the plant as the leaves are poisonous to most of them save for the ladybird which also rarely fancies pitching camp on the tree.

The Namakomo biofuel plant currently produces oil that is used in clay lamps. A set of two clay lamps and 200ml of oil retails at about Sh150. In addition to providing light, the scent from the burning oil acts as a mosquito repellant and therefore ideal to replace candles in homes as well as guard them against malaria incidences.

At a time when the Malaria is known as number one killer disease in Africa with over 400,000 deaths reported in 2010, households in the region could be encouraged to use such clay lamps and the oil to try to reduce the fatal impacts of mosquitoes. In the Ugandan, market the bio-fuel oil and its clay lamps are now replacing candles and tin lamps locally known as tadooba mostly used in rural homes and market places which in most cases pollute the environment with too much smoke and soot and at the same time burn out very fast.