Jatropha crops: alternative fuel sources in Myanmar

Myanmar's industry minister urged the country to start planting jatropha crops, which can be used as an alternative source of fuel to help solve the problems of rising global oil prices, a state-run newspaper reported Thursday. Industry Minister Aung Thaung told a meeting of business leaders Tuesday that if enough jatropha crops were planted it could improve the livelihood of farmers, fulfill the nation's fuel needs and be the "only way out of the oil crisis," the New Light of Myanmar reported.

Vegetable oil, extracted from the seeds of the jatropha curcas plant, can be refined into biodiesel, which can be burned in place of regular diesel. Myanmar has had to spend millions of dollars (euros) on fuel as world crude oil prices have increased, Aung Thaung said, adding that an acre of jatropha crops, or roughly 1,200 plants, could produce up to 100 gallons (380 litres) of biodiesel.

Biodiesel fuels are becoming increasing popular as fuel prices rise, particularly in countries with poor rural farming communities. In Malaysia, government vehicles are slated this year to starting using a biodisel fuel that is 5 percent palm oil and 95 percent diesel oil. The Myanmar government has raised prices dramatically for gasoline and oil to keep pace with rising global prices. Before the price hikes, the country already suffered from gasoline shortages due to limited domestic oil production and tight foreign exchange reserves. Myanmar was once one of the region's most important oil producers. In 1979, the country pumped 32,000 barrels of crude a day. But production has gradually declined and consumption increased, with about 16,000 barrels of crude pumped a day in 2002, or an annual total of 5.8 million, according to official figures, reports the AP. N.U.