MAIL: Biodiesel in Cambodia

Jatropha Shrub
Jatropha, a perennial shrub native to subtropical regions.
Jatropha Shrub

Thank you for publishing Home Power. It has inspired me to get involved with renewable energy projects in Northern California and around the world. Last year, I spent seven months working on a Jatropha-to-biodiesel project in a remote village near Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Despite a rapidly growing population and an increase in foreign investment, Cambodia is still a poor country with a very undeveloped infrastructure. The typical village family relies on a single 12-volt battery to power their home. Usually, one person in a village has a generator station where everyone will go to recharge or exchange their batteries. With the price of PV and other technology out of reach, my mission was to supply a village with Jatropha seeds and the knowledge to grow the fuel stock to make homegrown biodiesel for their generators.

Jatropha is a perennial shrub native to subtropical regions, notable for its high-oil-yielding seeds and ability to grow in regions prone to severe drought. It has been gaining much attention in Southeast Asia for its potential as a cash crop. It grows fast in full tropical sun, up to 5 meters tall with a tough stem, thick succulent leaves, and lime-sized fruit containing five oil-rich seeds. One hectare of Jatropha can yield more than 1 ton of seeds per year, or more than 1,500 liters of oil, depending on rainfall.

With my background as a greenhouse manager, I helped villagers and students develop a Jatropha nursery and plantation. We planted many hectares and built a structure to house an oil press and biodiesel refinery, along with a generator to refresh the community’s power supply and power the Children’s Hospital’s backup generators. It was a great adventure to see this project through, from germination to power generation. Our project created a plantation of trees that will perpetually bear green, renewable energy for the farmers and villagers that care for them.

As an unofficial diplomat, my real success was helping these people to understand and embrace a source of renewable energy that can empower their lives. With a new forward-looking U.S. administration facing economic, energy, and climate crises, renewable energy is the hope and solution for all these problems. Thank you for your revolutionary magazine.

Josh Guikema • via e-mail

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