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September 14, 2008

Israeli companies to grow castor beans for biodiesel in Namibia

Israel's Evogene, Ormat Industries and the Leviev Group of Companies said on September 10 they will set up a joint venture to grow castor beans in Namibia for the production of biodiesel.

Geothermal energy producer Ormat, through its US subsidiary Orfuel Inc, has been collaborating with Evogene since 2007 on growing non-edible plants on non-arable land for biodiesel production.The new joint venture with Leviev will examine different varieties of castor beans to find the most suitable for commercial growth in Namibia. Financial details were not disclosed.

Castor beans are rich in oil and the cost of producing biodiesel fuel from them is expected to be far less than the cost of production from crops used for food such as soybeans, the companies said.

The Leviev Group, owned by billionaire diamond dealer Lev Leviev, has access to land and infrastructure in Namibia, where it mines for and polishes diamonds. The joint venture may sell the seeds to growers or grow the castor beans on its own but it will not produce the biodiesel fuel, a spokeswoman said. The group may also expand plant production to other countries in Africa.

Leviev will have 50 percent of the joint venture, with Evogene holding 37,5 percent and Orfuel the rest. Evogene shares were up 1,1 percent in midday trade in Tel Aviv, compared with declines in the broader market. Ormat shares were down 1,1 percent.

Evogene recently announced it would collaborate with Monsanto Co on identifying key plant genes designed to deliver yield-enhancing grains. Evogene expects to receive $35-million over the five-year research and development deal with Monsanto, which also bought an $18-million stake in Evogene and agreed to buy an additional $12-million in the future.


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