Humanity birthplace and black continent. Africa takes with itself the wealth of the millennial history of mankind, but with it also the moments that we most wish to forget. Among these there is also the wavering history of biofuel production, marked with expensive and damaging failures.
First the much-hyped jatropha crop saw millions of dollars and vast tracts of land squandered, while the production of palm oil has been widely criticized for association with environmental damage and human rights abuses. But there is a new hope for the field coming from the oil extracted from Croton Megalocarpus tree, common throughout much of East and Central Africa, and until now it has been used for little more than firewood, but it has been promoted for its perceived benefits in fighting climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.
The first to notice the benefits and the high concentrations of oil and protein, perfect for use as a clean alternative to diesel, present in Croton nuts was the entrepreneur Alan Paul in 2012. Exploring the potential of Croton Megalocarpus, he founded the Eco Fuels Kenya (EFK). Unlike what it happened for the Jatropha, Alan doesn’t ask for the help to foreign multinationals and even large amounts of funding. At the beginning EFK put out radio ads to attract local entrepreneurs into partnerships, who assembled teams of smallholders to supply the nuts, while keeping the production of croton nut oil a low-energy process compared with traditional fuel manufacturing.
When suppliers realized their previously useless trees had become an easy and reliable source of income, the network rapidly expanded. This has enabled EFK to double production each year, up to 1,000 tons of nuts in 2016.
Today the company is now the driving the movement to bring croton biofuel to the mainstream. In its favor there is being a very local business; everything happens within 100 km from the factory. An approach that is planned to be maintained in the years to come when it’s expected the creation of five new factories in Kenya and many other neighboring countries such as Tanzania. Currently the Eco Fuels Kenya has also branched into selling by-products of the nuts, including seedcake from the pressed nut as poultry feed, and organic fertilizer from the shells. This offers insurance at a time investors remain wary of biofuels.