Until recently, the indigenous Croton megalocarpus tree common to central and east Africa was used mainly for firewood. But now Eco Fuels Kenya (EFK) is pioneering sustainable biofuel from croton nuts – without planting a single tree. As opposed to jatropha biofuel, once thought to hold immense promise as an alternative fuel but which required expensive plantations, croton nuts can be sourced from farmers. Managing Director Myles Katz described EFK’s approach as “completely local.”
Research revealed croton nut oil could be a “direct replacement for diesel fuel” in some engines, according to EFK, who describe themselves as the first and only croton nut processing company. As the tree is so common, EFK hasn’t yet needed to plant new ones. Instead, as more people found out the nuts once considered useless could bring in extra income, EFK’s harvester network grew to over 3,000 farmers. This year EFK handled 1,000 tons of nuts.
Katz told CNN, “We can buy nuts from farmers so they get an income and we have a business model that does not require $10 million of funding and a big plantation to get off the ground…Everything we source, process, and sell should be within 100 kilometers of the factory.”
On their website, EFK describes croton nut oil as “entirely environmentally friendly.” The tree flourishes without extra fertilizer or irrigation, and the nut oil production process requires little energy compared with traditional fuel production. Farmers don’t have to switch away from other crops to focus solely on croton nuts, and can even store the nuts for a year. The group says, “Croton trees’ newfound economic value promotes reforestation all over East Africa, which improves soil conditions as well as combats climate change. [Croton nut oil] replaces harmful natural fuels and since it’s produced locally and not imported, it saves carbon emissions as well.”
The group also produces organic fertilizer from croton nut shells, and makes seedcake from pressed nuts to feed poultry. Croton nut oil is largely sold to local businesses to power generators. EFK ultimately aims to plant 300,000 trees between 2016 and 2022.