Pilot biodiesel project planned in Georgia

Source: The Messenger, by Anna Kamushadze, 2007-03-27

The government has plans to launch a pilot project to cultivate rapeseed, extract its oil and make a biodiesel product from it, Rustavi 2 reported March 17.

According to the report, the EUR 12 million pilot project will begin in September. Six hectares of rapeseed will be planted somewhere in the western part of Georgia. Six hectares could yield 5000 tons of biodiesel. If the pilot project is deemed successful, Rustavi 2 reports investments will increase ten-fold. Special factories will also be constructed to process the rapeseed. It is unclear who will implement the project, but an official presentation of the project has been promised in about two weeks time.

The benefits of biodiesel are mostly environmental. Biodiesel is biodegradable and non-toxic, and typically produces about 60 percent less net carbon dioxide emissions than petroleum-based diesel, as it is itself produced from atmospheric carbon dioxide via photosynthesis in plants.

In the 1990s, biodiesel plants were opened in European countries, including the Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden. France started production of biodiesel fuel from rapeseed oil, which is mixed into regular diesel fuel at a level of 5 percent.

Most vehicles cannot run on 100 percent biodiesel, but rather on a mix, though the amount of the blend that is safe is debatable. Peugeot and Citroлn have recently announced that their HDI diesel engine can run on 30 percent biodiesel. Scania and Volkswagen say most of their engines will operate on 100 percent biodiesel.

Goderdzi Goderdzishvili, an agronomist from international organization CARE says he believes that Georgia will benefit from the cultivation of rapeseed, as it can be used to produce a renewable fuel. According to Goderdzishvili rapeseed used to be cultivated in the western Georgia previously to feed cattle, however, cultivation of this plant has all but stopped.

"Although rapeseed oil is widely known in Europe, Georgia has not yet considered it as an alternative fuel due to several problems related to its production. First and foremost is the problem of financing. Manufacturing rapeseed oil and biodiesel is cost intensive," Goderdzishvili says.

Aleksandre Loladze, head of the Extension Service department of the Biological Farming Association in Georgia Elkana told The Messenger that rapeseed is very similar to the mustard plant. He says the biodiesel fuel made from rapeseed may even have a cost benefit being slightly cheaper than regular diesel.

According to Loladze one hectare of the plant will yield about 3000 tons of grain, of which 1200 kg of oil can be extracted. From this amount of oil, 1164 kg of diesel can be produced.

However, in his opinion and according to his calculations, the industry wouldn't be very profitable for Georgia. "I think the government should search for ways to feed people and not plant vegetables for fuel." Loladze says.

Nana Janashia the Executive Director of CENN (Caucasus Environmental NGO Network) told The Messenger that she is unaware of the government's plans to cultivate rapeseed in Georgia, but she thinks that the project must be carefully examined. First the government should study the environmental impact, considering the habitat of the area and making sure the project doesn't disturb the eco-system, and then they should study the economic aspects, and determine if it is really profitable for the country.