Conversion of pick-up to run on jatropha (pourghere) oil

in November 2001

This Toyota pick-up, work-horse of Mali-Folkecenter, used for implementation of Renewable Energy-fuelled develoment projects in Malian rural areas, has been converted to run on CO2-neutral plant oil. In a simple procedure taking only 1 day of work, the cars standard 2.8litre diesel engine was converted to run on pourghere oil by an engineer from the German company Elsbett at a workshop in Bamako, Mali. Pourghere (Jathropha) is an abundant non-edible plant that flourishes in Mali's dry Sahel conditions.

Mali-Folkecenter has been working with pourghere technology for some years now. In the multi-functional platform concept, pourghere oil is used to fuel a small 8hp single cylinder engine. The engine provides mechanical power to mills (for agricultural processing, easing the heavy workload of women), battery chargers (so people can have light and radio/TV in their homes even off the grid), alternators (for village electrification) and an oil press (to provide the fuel and the raw material for soap production by women). The benefits to rural people are considerable - especially to women.

Mali-Folkecenter has a vision of a solar energy future. The sun is the one true energy source - it warms our planet, provides energy for photosynthesis in plants, and creates wind. In the future, farmers will harvest not only food and crops for trading, but also energy crops like pourghere. They will harvest the sun and wind using RE technology to provide for their energy needs. PV systems can provide high quality lighting, windpower can pump water or generate electricity, and pourghere oil can be used to provide heavy duty mechanical power necessary for agricultural processing, tractors, and transportation. The local production means local employment, and local generation of income. The potential benefit of pourghere technology to Mali, a country dependent on imported fossil fuels, is huge.

Elsbett GmbH

The German Elsbett company has over 15 years experience of commercial use of plant oil as a diesel substitute. There are currently over 1000 German cars and several trains running on environmentally friendly vegetable oil, mostly rape seed oil, with other ongoing projects in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Thailand. Originally Elsbett manufactured and installed high efficiency engines specially designed to work on plant oil. Now, however, the company focuses on the conversion of standard diesel engines by addition of fuel preheating systems, extra fuel filters,and replacement of glow plugs and injectors. The conversion can be done by Elsbett - alternatively those with some technical knowledge can buy conversion kits and convert their own cars. As oil prices rise, plant oil is THE Renewable Energy transportation solution for today.

The conversion

Alexander Noack, Chief Engineer at Elsbett GmbH, explaining his conversion work to mechanics at the workshop in Bamako. The conversion was shown on national television, and has raised the profile of the car. The day after the broadcast, Bamako's Sotrama minibuses were full of talk of how Mali's transportation should run on locally produced 'bagani' (pourghere) oil.

Pourghere is an inedible plant (by humans or livestock), it is used as a natural living hedge between fields, to protect crops from animals and reduce soil erosion. The seeds have 30-34% oil content, and need to be pressed to extract the oil. Until recently, this posed a problem as no suitable presses were available on the local market. However, in the frame of the Sustainable Energy Advisory Facility project, Mali-Folkecenter has succeeded ressuscitating interest in pourghere use and in transfering technology to Mali and has produced the first Malian pourghere press, in cooperation with Ateliers Centraux de Markala (Central Workshops of Markala, one of the leading workshops in Mali). The SEAF intervention also developed a sustainable management structure for application to pourghere multi-functional platforms.

The original Sundara Nepalese press (left) and the first Malian pourhgere press (right)

The future...

Mali-Folkecenter will continue to work with pourghere technology - at village level and for transportation. Currently under development and near completion is a sedimentation and filtration system for pourghere which will enable production of fuel-grade pourghere oil (clear of all particles larger than 3 to 5 microns) on a continuous basis. Promotion of the multi-functional platform and the Malian pourghere press will continue.