6 April 2017

Mozambique: Dream of Cheap Biodiesel Now Over

Maputo — The dream of producing cheap biodiesel from the shrub jatropha is over, according to the Mozambican Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy.

Under the previous government, led by President Armando Guebuza, a great deal of hope was placed in jatropha. The plant grows readily enough in Mozambique, and it was imagined that the production of biodiesel from jatropha seeds might be a way of reducing Mozambique's dependence on imported fuels.

Indeed, crushed jatropha seeds can produce high quality diesel, and the plant has also been used to produce aircraft fuel. Several countries, including Brazil and Pakistan, grew jatropha commercial, and produced diesel from it.

But in Mozambique, jatropha cultivation was on a small scale, and most farmers declined the invitations to grow jatropha, preferring to concentrate in food crops.

But the final nail in the jatropha coffin was the sharp fall in oil prices. Cited in Thursday's issue of the independent daily “O Pais”, Almirante Dima, deputy national director of hydrocarbons in the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy, pointed out that, at the height of the enthusiasm for jatropha, a barrel of crude oil was selling for 130 US dollars. There was talk that prices could reach 200 dollars a barrel.

That would certainly have made biodiesel from jatropha highly competitive. But, contrary to the prophecies, the price of oil has tumbled. Dima said no-one would buy biodiesel at 70 dollars a barrel, when conventional fuels cost 50 or 60 dollars a barrel.

“Nowadays it is not viable to use biodiesel because the cost of producing it is higher than the cost of conventional fuels”, he said.

The government had once planned to make it compulsory to add biofuels to conventional fuels. As from 2012, fuel companies were supposed to sell diesel that was a mixture of three per cent biodiesel and 97 per cent ordinary diesel. Petrol would be 10 per cent ethanol and 90 per cent orthodox petrol. This measure, it was believed, would cut the annual fuel import bill by 22 million dollars.

But it never happened. Despite the announced support of the Brazilian government, the project fell victim to the global financial crisis, which halted funding for biofuel initiatives. In 2014, the then National Director of Renewable Energies, Eusebio Saide, said the financial crisis had blocked the development of the biofuel industry in Mozambique.

Chances of revival seem slim. Nowadays, the main alternative to imported liquid fuels is Mozambique's own natural gas, and the words “biofuel” and “jatropha” can no longer be heard in official discourse.

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