Kenyans may soon breath a sigh of relief when buying fuel, if a biodiesel project by a university goes commercial.
Retailing at Sh85 a litre, the fuel, which is mostly used in tractors, is more than Sh15 cheaper than diesel sold by oil dealers.
The Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, together with Help Self Help Centre, based in Naromoru, near Nanyuki Town, are currently producing between 600 and 1,000 litres of the fuel daily.
The fuel is extracted from locally available seeds such as croton, cape chestnut and castor seeds.
The alternative fuel has seen farmers in Naromoru abandoning what they normally cultivate, to turn to the new crops for their seeds, said Mr Paul Maina, the project’s field coordinator.
“Seed is being bought from farmers at Sh15 per kilogramme and an acre of land can yield about 1,000 kilogrammes.”
He said: “A farmer can earn close to Sh15,000 after investing only Sh4,000 per acre,” said Mr Maina.
The seed is first cleaned and then pre-heated in a conditioner to allow the seeds to be flaked in preparation for further cooking.
The flaking is to rupture the oil cells. It eases the next steps of the crushing process, and if available, the solvent extraction.
The flaked seed is then fed into a cooker, where the seed’s moisture levels are reduced and temperature increased in preparation for pressing.
Inside the press, a specially designed worm configuration compresses the seeds, allowing the controlled release of oil.
The oil is drained from the bottom of the press while the cake is conveyed from the discharge end of the press.
The crude oil at this point contains solids that are removed using a vibrating screen or a horizontal centrifuge, also called a decanter. Cake from the discharge end of the press goes through a cake breaker and cake cooler.
Another seed — canola or rape seed — which is also crushed for biodiesel, is preferred by large scale farmers for rotation with cash crops such as wheat.
“Canola has soil enriching properties and is good for farmers growing cereals like wheat. It is also good for the production of edible oils,” Mr Maina said.
The sponsors use an extensive network that involves farmers’ groups to get the seeds.
They also offer technical advice to farmers on the growing, management and harvesting of rape seed, castor and croton.
The machine being used at the centre was bought from The Netherlands for Sh2 million.
According to Mr Peter Grundlehner, a research manager at Help Self Help, the project required a lot of seeds to go into large scale production.
Farmers need to be contracted to supply the seeds throughout the year to make the supply constant.
“One would need contracted farmers to supply them throughout the year. Otherwise production would come to a halt even with the installation of the right machines”, he said.
He said four kilogrammes of seed are required to produce a litre of biodiesel.
And because biodiesel can be produced domestically from a renewable resource, it also reduces dependence on foreign oil, increases agricultural revenue, and creates jobs, he added.
“Kenya could find herself out of the current fuel problem that is causing problems all over the world” he told the Nation at the stand at Jamhuri showground where the Nairobi International trade fair is currently running.
This would substantially help reduce rural poverty while subsidising incomes from other farm enterprises like dairy and maize production.
China’s ambassador to Kenya, Mr Zhang Ming, who toured the stand, said that the innovation was a step forward in ending the fuel crisis.