Bio-Energy Resources Limited (Berl), a Lilongwe-based company that was set to produce bio-fuel from jathropa seeds, has said there is nothing on the ground despite launching its operations five years ago.
The company is said to have pumped in $2 million in 2012 (an equivalent of K1.4 billion at the current exchange rate) to produce bio-fuel which was to be blended with four percent diesel to produce Jathropa diesel.
In a telephone interview on Monday, Berl acting chief executive officer Chikaiko Chadzunda said there has been no progress with regards to the production of the bio-fuel.
Berl started the research project to extract diesel from jathropa over five years ago with technical assistance from the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Lilongwe Technical College as well as universities from the Netherlands.
Berl is also said to have had a contract agreement with 25 000 smallholder farmers who were to grow the seeds at the edge of their farms so that the jathropa trees do not consume land meant for other crops.
It is unknown whether the delays are a result of less feedstock, regulatory problems or inefficiencies, but the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) on its part awarded Berl a pre-permit approval to manufacture, sell and distribute the jathropa diesel at the beginning of 2015.
Biodiesel can be used as an alternative to petroleum and is a renewable resource.
Biodiesel produced from these oils also causes less pollution than petroleum.
Use of biodiesel in the engines requires little or no modification.
The jathropa bio-diesel dream seems to have failed in many other places in Africa, including neighbouring Mozambique where investors pulled out large-scale production of bio-oil from jathropa seeds following results that it takes just as much land as food crops do.
Experts argue that the use of local fuel contributes positively to fuel price stability, reduce vehicle running costs and reduce over-reliance on imported fuel.
Malawi uses about 23 million litres of fuel a month, which is imported.
Meanwhile, plans to roll out the ethanol-driven vehicles are in their final stages as the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) has engaged tax, audit and business advisory firm KPMG on pricing. n
Firm mum on bio-fuel production