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May 09, 2010

Energy company to begin jatropha oil extraction in Mozambique

Fourteen months after planting its first crop of jatropha curcas, British-based renewable energy company, Sun Biofuels is to extract the first jatropha oil from its first yield of seeds at its farms at Chimoio in the Manica Province of Mozambique.

On 25th May this year, the President of the Republic of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, will press the button to crush from harvested seeds the first drops of jatropha oil.

Sun Biofuels was founded in 2005 with the single-minded vision to pioneer biofuel
production from jatropha curcas. The jatropha tree has grown wild in Africa for centuries. Its remarkable oil bearing properties were well-known. But it had never been grown on a commercial scale.

Attracted by the countries impressive economic growth rates, political stability, abundance of land and their untapped domestic energy markets, the company chose Mozambique and Tanzania as host nations for their plantations. In 2006,
after careful negotiation with local and national government, government guaranteed leases were secured on 8,000Ha in the Kiserawe region of Tanzania and on 5,000Ha near Chimoio in Mozambique. The sites had much to recommend them boasting excellent transport links, suitable soil conditions and optimum levels of rainfall.

Nor were any existing food crops displaced: The Mozambique plantation was acquired from an exiting tobacco firm and the plantation in Tanzania was
reclaimed from coastal scrub land badly degraded by local charcoal production.

In December 2008, 1000Ha were prepared and planted at Chimoio with planted land now covering over 3,000Ha in Tanzania and Mozambique. These first plantations have been highly successful with 95% germination rates and the trees now standing at 2m in height.

In Tanzania, 1200Ha of land were ploughed and harrowed in June 2009, prior to planting. Planting of this 1200Ha has been underway since October 2009 and the trees are performing as well as their Mozambique counterparts.

Much has been made of jatropha’s environmental benefits - the use of jatropha biodiesel results in an estimated 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the petro-chemical alternative.

Richard Morgan, Sun Biofuels’ CEO said, "At our plantations in Tanzania and
Mozambique we employ over 1,350 people – these are very poor areas and this is a much-needed source of local income. At each farm location a proportion of land is devoted to the cultivation of maize, sunflowers or cassava to ensure the food security of the local community. Moreover, the company works in close partnership with local communities on a variety of projects from the restoration of vital infrastructure to the provision of education – and most importantly healthcare - particularly in combating the menace of leprosy and malaria - and education in crop husbandry. Outgrower schemes, whereby local farmers will be given the opportunity and training to produce their own jatropha crop, are also a
fundamental tenet of the company’s strategy. Any visit to our plantations will testify to the vital impact the company has made to the lives of the local people."

The current estate (Mozambique and Tanzania combined) comprises 11,000Ha of ‘plantable’ land, being land fit for productive planting and which has not been reserved by the company for conservation purposes. The company aim to expand its operations reaching peak output by 2017.

Richard Morgan: "We are of course very alive to the prospect of exploiting other areas of the jatropha value chain – most notably the option of refining and selling
jatropha biodiesel and generating electricity for the local domestic markets. We are particularly excited about pioneering the provision of jatropha bio-jet fuel, the possibility of which we are currently discussing with a number of airlines
committed to reducing their carbon footprint. But for the moment our focus is very much on proving that jatropha can be produced sustainably and that we can deliver the oil yields that we’ve forecast and there’s every sign now that this will be achieved. We for our part are committed to demonstrate that jatropha can deliver on its promise, to alleviate poverty in developing countries whilst producing a sustainable clean energy.’


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