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March 30, 2009

Zimbabwe sets ambitious jatropha fuel target

Zimbabwe plans to use jatropha to produce up to 10 percent of its fuel needs or 100 million litres of biodiesel per year by 2017, the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe said on March 30.

Abisai Mushaka, the company's biofuels programme manager, said biodiesel would then substitute 10 percent of fuel imports.

"We plan to meet our 10 percent national target or roughly 100 million litres per year by 2017," Mushaka told a conference.

Jatropha is a non-food crop whose oil can be used to produce biodiesel. It can be grown on semi-arid land and poses less of a threat to food production than other biofuel feedstocks such as grains and vegetable oils, supporters argue.

Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis has made it difficult for it to invest to meet its internal fossil fuel demand, but its biofuels potential is believed to be significant owing to fuel shortages and a need for energy independence.

The state-owned company plans to plant jatropha on 120,000 hectares of land. In the period between December and March, farmers planted 1.5 million jatropha plants on average per week.

Mushaka said that if Zimbabwe managed to double that rate, it could meet the 10-percent target two years earlier.

The national oil firm launched a programme to support planting jatropha by providing technical and financial support and by supplying seedlings. The majority of the jatropha plantations are small-scale operations, Mushaka said.

Mushaka said a 35-million-litres biodiesel plant was comissioned in 2007 and he expects the jatropha production to meet the plant's capacity by 2013.

The biodeisel plant is being funded via a 50-50 joint venture between the Zimbabwean government and Malaysia.

Zimbabwe started producing ethanol for transport as early as 1979 when it faced international sanctions, but stopped mainly due to drought and partially to ban the use of benzene in the extraction of ethanol.

The National Oil Company's Director for Technical Support Services Griefshow Revanewako said that in a partnership with Triangle Ltd it has revived an ethanol plant, which now produces up to 60,000 litres of ethanol per day at a B10 blending level.

Revanewako said the partnership aims to increase ethanol output to the maximum capacity of 120,000 litres per day.

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