Today, the streets of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano are traversed by vehicles that guzzle fossil fuels and belch greenhouse gases. Nigeria doesn’t emit as much environmentally unfriendly gas as the world’s biggest polluters, but its growing population, with its urbanizing tendencies and adherence to the western industrialization model, could make it one in decades to come. The government could struggle to keep its word on cutting down on carbon emissions by 20 percent by the year 2030, simply because Nigerians certainly won’t give up their four wheel drives for the sake of the environmental cause.
A huge investment promised by Malaysian company, Bionas, could provide some room for Nigeria to maneuver. About $2.5 billion is to be put into the creation of a whole new industry for the production of a green alternative to traditional fuels. A value chain running from extraction to processing and output distribution will be created, generating thousands of jobs. At the centre of this initiative is a seed-bearing plant- Jatropha.
Jatrophas curcas, a resilient shrub which grows in a range of terrains including wasteland, sandy and saline soils, was described as the “preferred non-food plant for biofuel production” in Nigeria by the Minister of State for Environment, Usman Jubril. The oil obtained by crushing its seeds can be processed and used as bio-fuel. The fuel can be used in a diesel car; it can also be processed to into jet fuel. Its ability to withstand very dry conditions has made it a favourite of the government for its afforestation program as well. It seems that this one plant could help Nigeria deal with some of its most difficult challenges.
Bionas’ Group Chief Executive Officer, Ms. Zurina Amnan said over the weekend that her company intended to make Nigeria a hub for renewable energy in Africa. According to her, Bionas plans to “produce 200,000 professional engineers that will implement the (Jatropha) programme in other African countries”. On the home front, it would create an “Agropolitan business cluster” in Zaria where Jatropha-based biofuel production would take place. The Jatropha Value Chain should involve Nigerians from the planting and harvesting of the shrub’s seeds to the processing of the seed-oil into bio-fuel and the marketing of the product.
The government appears to be taking the bio-fuel project seriously. Bionas says the Central Bank of Nigeria has agreed for joint collaboration and will be providing financial facilities to nurseries and small-scale producers under the Jatropha biofuel program. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is also reported to have given its support to the project. The NNPC earlier announced that it would be planting Jatropha trees along its 5,000 km of pipeline to produce biodiesel (the cover provided by the shrub is expected to prevent erosion along the pipelines as well).
There has been some talk about producing biofuels from oil palm; but Jatropha could be more appealing as the plant of choice for that purpose because, unlike the oil palm, it isn’t a notable source of food for Nigerians. Whatever the preferred choice turns out to be, the new focus on Jatropha has the potential to spark even greater interest in green energy in the country.