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May 09, 2010

Namibian biofuel venture secures land for jatropha plantation

by Jen Balboa

LL Biofuels Namibia has gotten hold of 300,000 hectares of land from Caprivi chiefs of the southern African country for the planting of jatropha for biodiesel production, Namibia’s New Era newspaper reported.

The multibillion dollar venture involves a 20-year lease agreement for the Katima farm between LL Biofuels and the farm’s co-owners, the Caprivi Regional Council and the Namibia Development Corporation.

Lev Leviev, a Bukharian-Israeli billionaire businessman, has already poured 20 million Namibian dollars ($2.6 million) into the project’s ongoing experimental phase. The project can attract billions of dollars of funding once Israeli investors find the yield sufficient.

So far, the venture has reportedly planted 400 different jatropha varieties on 15 hectares of the 400-hectare Katima farm. This phase will determine which of the selected pilot crop varieties has a higher diesel yield and is suitable for the Caprivi terrain.

The target is to find the best jatropha tree varieties that yield 3 metric tons to 8 metric tons of diesel annually, said Alon Vered, an agronomist and project manager for LL Biofuels.

The company will only plant jatropha at 20,000 hectares at a time since the 300,000 hectares secured is excessive for the project. LL Biofuels will use a press machine to squeeze out the biodiesel from the jatropha seed, explained Mr. Vered.

The drought-resistant jatropha will be able to produce 1 million barrels of biofuel at 20,000 hectares and 5 million barrels for every 100,000 hectares. Each 200-liter barrel of jatropha biofuel may cost about $75, supposedly cheaper than fossil diesel, Mr. Vered estimated.

LL Biofuels will produce the first barrels next year once negotiations with the government push through. The company also plans to tie up with multinational oil companies once production begins to develop more market opportunities.

The company intends to use a part of the anticipated billion-dollar investment to construct a high-tech chemical plant that will feature a huge seed press and silos for the storage of the jatropha seeds. After the extraction of the biofuel, the seed residue will be converted into an organic fertilizer for the jatropha plant.

LL Biofuels aims to become the biggest biofuel producer in Africa, especially for biodiesel. The fuel produced will be used in Namibia, while some will be exported.

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