Joe Pickowitz spent part of the winter break working on a first — Haiti’s first bio-fuel production facility.
It has been a multi-year collaborative effort between the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) and a non-profit organization, Jatropha Pepinyè, which has focused on an indigenous source of diesel fuel as a foundation for building a stable Haitian economy.
Pickowitz and ISTC teamed up with Jatropha Pepinyè [a nonprofit Haitian business – which is administrated by Partners for People and Place (PPP) – a 501c(3) nonprofit] and Esperance et Vie [a Haitian nonprofit, nongovernmental organization] to help implement a biodiesel pilot plant and start farm growth of a native feedstock, Jatropha, in 2008.
Picowitz, an environmental engineer at ISTC, has served as a technical expert for the group, traveling to Haiti a number of times to help build the infrastructure for a continuous biofuel production process.
Jatropha Pepinyè has planted a sufficient supply of native Jatropha curcasa trees and have nurtured them to maturity. The beans from the tree have among the highest concentrations of bio-oils among plant varieties. They can be grown easily in marginal soil and they are not a food crop, in fact animals will not eat them due to toxic compounds they contain. Currently the project has about 150 acres planted with Jatropha. The project also contributes to the re-vegetation of deforested landscapes.
The goal for this trip was to add a pretreatment unit to crush the beans for maximum fluid extraction.
The pilot plant can make a 40-gallon batch of biodiesel in about two days. However, once the Haitians are able to make consistent quality batches, Pickowitz predicts that they could scale up to 200-gallon batches in the same two-day time frame as well as add more holding containers so that the next batch of biodiesel can be prepped during the two-day reaction time of the current batch.
In the impoverished country of Haiti, people often have a hard time getting essential items needed for living and working, especially food and fuel. The Haitian people currently use about 71 percent wood/charcoal and 29 percent petroleum/hydroelectric (65 percent of which is diesel) for fuel according to Kathleen Robbins, co-founder of Jatropha Pepinyè. However, 98 percent of Haiti is deforested so wood and charcoal soon will not be an option.
Most homes in Haiti that have electricity are powered by a diesel generator because Haiti has no power grid. Because 100 percent of Haiti’s petroleum is imported and with the rising price of crude oil around the world, it will be even harder for the Haitian people to maintain even the poorest standards of living. This project will reduce Haiti’s dependence on foreign oil and create jobs.