Myanmar has projected a sharp increase of biofuel output next year from Jatropha physic nut plantations to substitute diesel, according to the Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation Saturday.
Up to 8 million acres ( 3.24 million hectares) of the plants will be grown to realize the projected increase of the biofuel up to 20 million tons a year, the ministry-run enterprise dealing with industrial crops said.
Jatropha physic nuts were being planted on 1.6 million acres ( 648,000 hectares) mainly in three dry zones of Mandalay, Sagaing and Magway divisions, it said.
Official statistics show that Myanmar yielded about 90 million gallons (405 million liters) of diesel a year while importing more than 200 million gallons (900 million liters) annually to meet its domestic demand.
According to the enterprise, Myanmar has about 15.85 million acres (6.41 million hectares) of land suitable for growing Jetropha plants.
Myanmar has eyed physic nut oil as fuel since late 2005, advocating the use of it as fuel in the country and urging the country's people to grow such nut plantations extensively.
The authorities also stressed the need for the country to use such biodiesel to avoid spending millions of foreign exchange on fuel, pointing out that the use of biodiesel as an alternative fuel for petrol, kerosene and diesel would also enable rural people to avoid searching fuelwood and help protect forests from depletion and conserve trees.
Cultivation of an acre (0.405 hectare) of land with 1,200 physic nut plants can produce up to 100 gallons (454.6 liters) of biodiesel, Myanmar experts said.
There are two physic nut species in Myanmar -- Castor and Jatropha. Crude oil derived from milled Jatropha can be directly used as fuel only after filtering it with cloth. Experimental use of the Jatropha crude oil in running machines and cars has shown promising results, experts added.
Meanwhile, since October 2005, Myanmar has raised its official fuel prices under limited supply quota to a record high by nearly nine times to 1,500 kyats (1.22 U.S. dollars) from the previous 180 kyats (14 U.S. cents) per gallon for petrol and 160 kyats (13 cents) per gallon for diesel.
The government held that despite the fuel price hike, which is still comparatively lower than the regional and the world market prices, the government still remains subsidized with the fuel supply.
In addition to the official fuel prices, there exists a market prices at 3,800 Kyats (about 3 dollars) per gallon for petrol and 4,800 Kyats (about 3.84 dollars) for diesel.
In a bid to cut the cost of oil imports as well as under an ambitious plan to modify all vehicles in the country in terms of fuel operation, the government has also introduced a program since August 2004 to substitute fuel with gas for transportation purpose, targeting to convert all diesel and petrol vehicles operating in the country to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) partly because of having abundance of natural gas domestically.
So far, a total of over 10,000 petrol- or diesel-run motor vehicles have been so converted in the former capital of Yangon.