A cheap, new, sustainable biofuel which grows on trees. Sounds too good to be true, right?
But some people think one plant could hold the answer to solving the ongoing fuel crisis in Africa, whose energy production at the present moment is too reliant on petroleum and electricity to be sustainable.
But they’ve been burned before.
A decade ago investors spent millions of dollars and vast quantities of land on the much-hyped Jatropha plant. It was seen as a dream biofuel due to its ability to grow in harsh conditions, but soon it was discovered that when planted on more fertile land it would outcompete food crops. The miracle plant turned out to be nothing more than a mirage.
So it’s understandable that people are skeptical about a new biofuel source which is being touted as the new hope for sustainable development in Africa.
The Croton tree is native to East and Central Africa and produces macadamia nut sized fruit which previously was used for nothing more than firewood. But the Croton tree nut contains a large amount of oil and protein which is perfect for creating biofuel.
The main advantage of using Croton oil seem quite obvious from the outside – it generates 78% less CO2 than diesel, and the plant is already very established in the region so there is no need to take over large quantities of arable land as was the case with the Jatropha tree. Also, the nut itself is edible so it there would be food security.
Eco Fuels Kenya (EFK) is a small company founded in 2012 based at Mount Kenya. They are pioneering the use of the Croton nut to meet Africa’s demand for low-carbon energy.
Determined not to follow in the footsteps of the Jatropha disaster, EFK has very deliberately decided to start small.
“We have decided to collaborate with small-scale holders and minimise the risk for everyone involved,” (EFK Managing Director Myles Katz)
At the minute they buy from around 5,000 farmers in the region.
Goodbye to coffee?
The Croton nut has another big advantage going for it – it could also help reduce poverty in Africa by virtue of being a very cheap crop to farm. They don’t require any water or fertiliser to be bought and can be harvested for up to six months a year. Farmers also get paid on delivery whereas coffee farmers usually have to wait for months to receive payment.
Coffee grower, Martin Kamai, is one of many farmers who are making the move to Croton. He has planted 500 Croton trees on his farm with plans to expand.
“Croton pays better than any other crop. This is our future.”
Is he right? Only time will tell if the Croton is the saviour Africa is hoping for or just another perfect illusion. Let us know your opinion using the comments box below.