Thursday, July 27, 2017

Govt, FAO investigate jatropha for electricity project

An FAO employee shows how the Overheated Steam System machine works at the Myanmar Agriculture Service compound in Yangon. Photo: Than Htike OoAn FAO employee shows how the Overheated Steam System machine works at the Myanmar Agriculture Service compound in Yangon. Photo: Than Htike Oo

A new power generation system is on its way to light up tens of thousands of villages without electricity. It depends on biodiesel fuel, a natural product extracted from the seeds of the jatropha plant, which is otherwise used as a form of hedge to contain animals.

The scheme could also provide more income to farmers and promote rural development. Working with the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MoAI) have launched a pilot project that could eventually be extended to up to 60,000 rural communities across the country.

As a first step, the project has set up an Overheated Steam System (OSS) machine in the compound of Myanmar Agriculture Service (MAS) Seed Division where FAO’s office is located in Insein township. The OSS machine extracts oil – or biofuel – from the seeds by subjected them to superheated steam.

The OSS machine was produced a Japanese company – Jisen Kankiyo Kenkiyushiyo – and the ministry, through the Myanmar Trade Council, has requested the company to donate the device.

“We will place the machine in the MAS seed division because an oil laboratory is being established there,” said FAO representative Dr Shin Imai. The machine was tested on October 11.

“A full-size machine can extract about 150 litres of oil an hour, while a generator consumes only 3 litres an hour,” Dr Imai said.

“The test machine costs about US$100,000. The proposed [test] project will be extended to 1000 villages without electricity, which we haven’t selected yet,” said Dr Imai, adding that the villagers will be expected to harvest the nuts and transport them to Yangon, where they will be processed and returned as biofuel.

Dr Imai added that the cultivation of jatropha, also called physic nuts locally, would not conflict with food production, but could contribute to protecting the land from erosion because of the plant’s extensive root system.

According to FAO, about 2 million hectares in this country are devoted to the cultivation of jatropha, but a system has to be established to harvest the seeds.