NCT Jacam Energy Co., a joint venture between Cambodia and Japan, will begin production of jatropha oil in October, raising production to an expected 5,000 liters per day for local consumption.
Jatropha can be used to make biodiesel and could be used to meet demands in rural electricity, river ferries and agricultural and construction machinery, said Chheuy Sophors, president of NCT Jacam.
The company began operations in August, with an investment of $400,000 in a factory in Kampong Speu province, following three years of experimentation. However, the company does not have its own jatropha plantation and would require 5,000 tons of the plant per year. Some 3 kilograms to 4 kilograms of jatropha are required for 1 liter of jatropha oil.
The oil can be bought for around 3,400 riel, less than $1, per liter, equal to the current price of petroleum, but it lasts longer, Chheuy Sophors said. It can be used by any machinery that uses petroleum. Cambodia already produces bio-ethanol from cassava, which can be mixed with gasoline.
“If we can produce [jatropha oil], especially to supply rural areas, first of all, our people will have employment and our country won’t need to import oil from outside,” said Sath Samy, secretary of state for the Ministry of Mines and Energy. “Or at least we can reduce imports, as we produce [oil] from jatropha.”
Jatropha is grown in many Asian countries, supplying markets in Europe and the US, where it has become popular as a green product helping reduce global warming.
However, in Cambodia, it is not grown in massive amounts and is generally only found growing along fences outside people’s homes.
More than 10 companies from Japan, Malaysia and China are now investing in growing the plant in Cambodia, covering 3,000 to 4,000 hectares in the provinces of Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Speu, Kampong Cham, Prey Veng and Koh Kong.
Most companies are still in an experimentation stage.
“We are producing jatropha seed for ourselves, and some of them will be sent to our Japanese partner for testing,” said Tum Pen Vireak Vitour, president of Eco-Agro Japan Cambodia Energy, which is growing 100 hectares of jatropha in Preah Sihanouk province.
San Yu, a representative of Singapore’s Green Acres, said his company was growing 100 hectares in Kampong Chhnang but needed a few more years before production. San Yu, also the president of Development and Appropriate Technology, said the delay is due in part to a shortage of seeds in Cambodia.
Other problems include irrigation, low-lying land, and length of time needed to rent land and limitations of local people.
“All of these stop us from speeding up the process,” he said.
Jatropha can survive for 50 years, yielding up to 2 kg per truck after nine months and up to 20 kilograms per truck after 10 years, as long as it is fully irrigated.
Jatropha investments remains low, San Yu said, as people are still waiting to see the progress of other companies.