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Commercial bio-diesel production to start as govt gazettes enabling law

It is said hat perseverance and patience are virtues that only those who know clearly the road they must take possess. At last the country’s dream of becoming a net bio-diesel producer could become reality after the Government published the law establishing an agency that will help deliver this vision.
A jatropha tree, one of the trees whose oil seeds are used in making bio-fuels. The New Times / File photo
A jatropha tree, one of the trees whose oil seeds are used in making bio-fuels. The New Times / File photo

It is said hat perseverance and patience are virtues that only those who know clearly the road they must take possess. At last the country’s dream of becoming a net bio-diesel producer could become reality after the Government published the law establishing an agency that will help deliver this vision.

According to the country’s lead industrial research organisation, Rwanda Institute of Science and Technology (IRST) director general, Dr. Jean Baptiste Nduwayezu, the law to transform the institute into the National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) was published in the official gazette on July 29. It replaces the IRST law of 1989.

Nduwayezu lauded the development, saying the woes IRST has been facing could soon be history as NIRDA will be an independent agency mandated with developing and marketing its innovations. The research institute has majorly been spearheading the bio-diesel processing and marketing project at Kigali Bio-fuel Research Centre in Mulindi, Gasabo District.

“We are happy the law has been published. However, we are still waiting for approval of NIRDA’s organisational structure by the Cabinet for it to start work. When this happens, all the problems that have been frustrating our efforts will hopefully be solved.”

He, however, said the bio-diesel policy that provides for promotion of bio-energy industries, support for farmers and business engaged in green energy development, as well as tax incentives for cars and industries that use bio-fuel is yet to be approved. It was submitted to the Government in the 2009/10 financial year, but had been gathering dust on the Education Ministry shelves for about five years. IRST is currently under the Education Ministry.

Nduwayezu explained that the new development will result in the setting up of the Rwanda Biofuel Company Limited to handle bio-fuels and renewable energy development and marketing, as well as other related industries like the cosmetics, fertilisers, agro-processing and packaging, plus chemical making projects.

“The law allows NIRDA to have subsidiary companies that can operate as private entities and do business,” he added.

“The private sector fears investing in research and new technologies, but with the new company in place, NIRDA will invite them to learn the technologies. After they have learnt and are ready to continue on their own, the Government will pull out of the projects in phases. However, we will continue giving them technical support,” he explained.

He said they want to use this strategy to attract investors into the bio-energy development and other new innovations to boost the country’s industrial growth.

Nduwayezu said under the new law IRST will be one of the divisions of NIRDA.

Industries must contribute over 20 per cent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product according to Vision 2020 that seeks to transform Rwanda into a middle-income economy. Publishing of the NIRDA law, therefore, strengthens government’s efforts to deliver the second phase of the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy growth targets. 

With NIRDA in place and up and running, the woes of IRST should end as the agency starts to reposition the country’s bio-energy sector with a view of making it self-reliant. 

Nduwayezu said the development has greatly excited stakeholders, including farmers and business people.

“Many people are interested in joining us, but we have asked them to wait as we are still in transition. When NIRDA is operational and we are ready, we will invite them to buy shares because the industrial research agency will have powers to set up subsidiary companies,” he explains.

As the ministries of public service and labour and trade and industry await Cabinet approval of NIRDA’s organisational structure and board, the institute is mobilising farmers and co-operatives across the country to increase acreage under jatropha. 

What IRST is doing as it prepares for full-scale commercial production

According to Nduwayezu, over 120 co-operatives are already engaged in jatropha growing across the country. These, plus individual farmers, have altogether planted over five million jatropha trees, he adds.

As per the roadmap that had been drafted in 2008, Rwanda could by this year have been able to replace 5 per cent of the fossil fuel it imports and earning about Rwf806.7m if the law had been approved by the Cabinet in 2009 when it was submitted to the Education Ministry and operationalised. The figure would have gone up to 20 per cent in 2015, hitting 50 per cent in 2020.

A feasibility study “Feasibility for Rwandan Bio-diesel Project Development”conducted by IRST last year indicates that Rwanda could be able to satisfy all her diesel needs, replacing fossil oil by 2025 and earning over Rwf10.6b.

It also shows that the country can produce 48,000 litres of bio-diesel per day when NIRDA is operationalised compared to 2,000 litres that IRST was producing before it stopped operations over a year ago.

Also, a sustainable bio-diesel policy for Rwanda that was developed in 2008 indicates that the country could be able to replace by 100 per cent all the fossil diesel imports (or 160 million litres of diesel imports) and, thus saving $300m.

“This money can be invested in other developmental activities to reduce rural poverty and improve the economy since money will be spent inside the country.

“There are also environmental benefits of using bio-fuel because it is a cleaner energy with much lower carbon emissions compared to fossil oils,” he explains.

He adds that the move would even be in line with the City of Kigali’s green city drive as it could reduce diesel carbon emissions by close to 50 per cent if the majority of the people use diesel-run cars. 

Bio-diesel is also cheaper compared fossil diesel.

According to last year’s rates (when the IRST pilot filling station at Mulindi, Gasabo District was still involved in semi-commercial production) a litre of bio-diesel was at Rwf890 compared to Rwf950 for conventional diesel.

The bio-fuel project was one of the initiatives the Government started as a sustainable strategy to make the country self-reliant as far as fuel production is concerned.

Besides saving the country foreign exchange and boosting hard currency reserves, the bio-fuel plant is a huge security weapon/strategy.

It is also important in this era of global warming and environmental degradation and sustainable food production since jatropha, moringa and neem trees whose seeds are used to extract oil, improve soil fertility, according Dr. Nduwayezu and Internet sources.

“Jatropha tree is a source of new income that enables you to grow food crops the normal way. Besides income, the crop will boost soil fertility and also promotes sustainable environmental management and combats climate change,” he explained.

As they say, better late than never and, all is well that ends well.

“As we wait for the approval of the bio-fuel policy, and the day when Rwanda will be able to save at least 50 per cent of the money used on fossil diesel imports, we pray for everyone’s support to the project to make it a success.

The project will create 1,000s of jobs for the youth both off and on the farm, as well as help fuel the country’s industrialisation dream,” Nduwayezu noted.

Over 225,000 hectares under close to 60 million oil seed trees (jatropha, moringa and palm oil) are required to achieve this feat.

Plans in pipeline

IRST is planning to set up other filling stations once we start operations. “We shall first target those areas where they grow jatropha and oil seed tree as a way of supporting them,” Nduwayezu said.

It is also carrying out provenance trials (experiments) to get the best variety for each agricultural zone of the country.

We will also start tree breeding projects to develop other high-yielding varieties…we have already identified the mother varieties from Kenya and Tanzania.

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