Jatropha has biofuel potential - But cost of growing crop must first be ascertained, cautions minister

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The Star 30 July 2008   


SEPANG: The cost of growing jatropha needs to be ascertained before it can be fully commercialised by smallholders, says Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui.

“Jatropha is a possible crop for biodiesel and the potential is there. But I would not recommend smallholders grow it until we know the cost involved,” he said after viewing the jatropha research and development activities being carried out at Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology Sdn Bhd's (ACGT) Jatropha Experimental Station yesterday.

A wholly-owned subsidiary of Asiatic Development Bhd, ACGT has been experimenting on jatropha and its various aspects, including genomics.

Chin said he did not agree with companies trying to champion jatropha by enticing small holders to grow it on a contract basis or to sell seedlings.

“It's not time yet. For small holders to grow, they must know the cost.

“For them it's a matter of survival,” he said, adding that apart from cost, other factors such as the right variety would also need to be determined for commercialisation.

Asiatic Development chief executive Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay said the Genting group viewed the project as a potential future third generation crop for the country.

“A broader view is needed and one way of doing this is through the application of science. We will definitely achieve what the minister (Chin) has asked, in terms of the immediate application that jatropha can be applied to,” he said.

Lim said the group's research and development work on jatropha was more of an immediate response to address the current issue of high fuel prices and the food-versus-fuel controversy, as it was non-edible.

He said there was a need to be prepared for the future and that ACGT's work would help determine if jatropha could be a viable crop. “Hopefully, by year-end we will be able to provide the answers that the ministry is looking for,” he added.

On Tenaga Nasional Bhd's (TNB) interest in acquiring Genting's power assets, Lim said talks between the two parties were just exploratory and non-conclusive.

“We just left it open because bigger issues, like the independent power producers, have become more important. TNB and the industry would like to focus on resolving that amicably,” he said.

TNB chief executive officer Datuk Seri Che Khalib Mohamad Noh had last week said that talks with Genting on the purchase of its power assets had hit a stalemate, as both parties had not agreed on pricing.