Castor bean seed has been named a ready jatropha alternative in the production of bio-diesel with Oil Castor encouraging more farmers to produce the seed as an effective solution to Zimbabwe’s fuel situation.
Oil Castor uses castor bean seeds to manufacture a range of products, mainly cosmetics, like soaps and other medicinal oils.
The company has been supporting about 150 castor bean farmers since the 2018/2019 farming season. Now the number has reportedly risen to 200 farmers who share ideas through a WhatsApp group administered by the company.
Registered farmers are provided with seeds while education on agronomic practices is imparted free-of-charge to interested parties every Monday.
Addressing farmers at the Bio-diesel Production and Castor Bean Farming Conference held in Msasa on Tuesday, Oil Castor head of chemistry and engineering department Takudzwa Chifamba said focus towards bio-diesel production emanated from a yearning desire to proffer effective home-grown solutions to the catastrophic fuel situation in the country.
He further claimed the company has discovered the formula to produce B100 bio-diesel from castor bean seed, which opportunity farmers should capitalise on.
“After having witnessed and experiencing the fuel situation in our country currently characterised by high prices, we came up with a solution and it was bio-diesel production. As Oil Castor chemistry department, we have developed a formula to produce B100 bio-diesel from the castor bean seed,” said Chifamba.
In explaining the formula in question, Chifamba claimed the hybrid castor seed has an oil content of between 65 and 80 percent, translating to 1 000 kilograms of seeds being capable of giving an output of 800 litres of castor oil. The resultant 800 litres of castor oil will in turn produce bio-diesel to the tune of 680 litres with the devised formula.
The chemist further claimed 1,7 kilogram of castor seed, with about 5 000 seeds can potentially produce 42 tonnes of castor bean in its lifetime (believed to be 4 years). The tonnage in turn translate to about 28 000 litres of bio-diesel according to Chifamba.
Farmers were urged to take advantage of the castor bean plant being a perennial plant that withstand all soil conditions and rainfall patterns.
“The most precious thing about the hybrid castor seed is that it can grow almost anywhere so farmers from areas with both low and high rainfall are able to grow it. Surely, this will help our country in a long way in alleviating fuel shortages and price hikes as well as bring in foreign currency for our beloved country Zimbabwe,” said Chifamba.
Among other things, the conference sought to broadcast the message to as many farmers as possible with a view to urge them to engage in castor bean farming and scale up bio-diesel production ensuring the availability of bio-diesel at the country’s service stations.
“My goal is to ensure that every fuel station in Zimbabwe has a bio-diesel pump,” Chifamba added.
Present and aspiring farmers have further been assured of a ready market by Oil Castor which in its capacity pays an approximate of ZWL$16 000 per tonne of castor seed as claimed by another chemist and co-founder, Portia Maphosa.
Chifamba claimed the company envision the production of at least 10 tonnes of castor been seed which will translate to about 6 800 litres of bio-diesel if more farmers come on board and cultivate large tracts of land.
He claimed that most of the available farmers are presently getting seeds for very small pieces of land of about 3 hactres and below, making it impossible for Oil Castor to contribute significantly in the production of bio-diesel.
Meanwhile, an output of about 5 tonnes of castor been seed is expected to be achieved by April 2020 from the current number of farmers.
Research indicate castor oil bio-diesel has a very low cloud and pour points which makes it the best alternative in winter conditions. It can be used as an additive for petroleum diesel to improve on endurance.
Further, castor oil bio-diesel in blends reportedly lowers the cloud point value although it may increase the viscosity of bio-diesel blends. The viscosity, though, makes castor oil bio-diesel with its very low cloud and pour points suitable for use in extreme winter temperatures.
The Government already instituted the National bio-fuels policy to govern the sector in complementing its (Government) thrust on renewable energy production.
The policy was formulated with a thrust on ethanol from sugar-cane and bio-diesel from Jatropha with exploration of other avenues in the name of cassava and sweet sorghum.
The policy seeks to make it mandatory for diesel to be blended with bio-diesel by 2020.
With growing demand for liquid fuels, Zimbabwe has reportedly been importing about $1 billion worth of diesel and petrol per annum.
This scenario, compounded with the need to subscribe to goal number 7 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), that speaks to the provision of clean renewable energy, ignited an interest in clean liquid fuel alternatives.