Sri Lanka wants grow oil-bearing jatropha plants for bio-diesel

Feb 08, 2007 (LBO) – Sri Lanka is studying the feasibility of growing a new oil-bearing plant in marginal state land to make bio-diesel with private sector partners, an official said. Countries such as the United States have given tax-breaks for alternative fuels, and blended bio-diesel such as B5 with 5 percent vegetable based diesel is already widely used.

The Strategic Enterprise Management Agency (SEMA) which is tasked with turning around more than a dozen state entities says several organizations coming under its purview have land which can be used to grow the jatropha plant.

“India is going heavily for jatropha cultivations. It is an African plant that is poisonous if it is ill used, but it has got very high oil extracting capability,” Chris Dharmakirti, SEMA’s chief operating officer told LBO.

“Jatropha is now being recognized as a most efficient bio-diesel source.”

One of the main advantages of the plant is that it grows on unfertile, marginal land. The plant also needs minimal care.

Unproductive plantation lands can be used to grow jatropha and the SEMA is already in the process of mapping potential plots.

It is trying to identify about 10,000 hectares of land out of 52,000 hectares that is available.

“We have the Cashew Corporation lands which is north of Puttalam and in the Mannar basin, which we can utilize,” says Dharmakirti.

Land in the eastern province, owned by the National Livestock Development Board, some marginal tea land as well as coconut land have also been looked at.

SEMA would look for partnerships with the private sector to take the project forward.

“We will be inviting the private sector and doing some on our own,” Dharmakirti says.

“We will be getting investors to come in and do joint ventures with us so that we can develop it.”

A factory to manufacture bio-diesel from jatropha would also have to be built.

Dharmakiriti says ‘Kekuna’, a plant that had been widely grown before British rule to extract oil can also has been identified by researchers as a potential source of bio-diesel.