Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bionic Palm Ltd, our sustainable biomass feedstock company

Today we start talking about another area of activities within the Bionic Fuel Group, the African agricultural venture Bionic Palm Ltd. Ghana (BPL). The company was founded in 2007 and came a long way since then. An early attempt to take over an existing palm oil mill was terminated after a few months. Subsequently BPL started its "food and energy" project model in Ghana's coastal savannah about 50km outside of the capital Accra. This presentation gives an overview on what we are doing. We started a test farm which has currently reached a size of approx. 150ha.

Building on the test farm experience an innovative integrated farming model was designed which will be rolled out as soon as the necessary funding is in place. We expect to create at least 500 permanent jobs. We consider 5000ha as the upper limit for this project. Food:Energy ratio will be 7:3 in terms of land use.  However, food crops could not be grown with the same sustainable yields without Jatropha hedges, therefore we actually exceed the potential of food crops per ha without the hedges while only using 70% of the land.

The farm will produce quality food for the local markets especially in the urban center of Accra/Tema and generate its own energy from the farm waste.

The test farm employs 35 people permanently by now and grows local crops like chili pepper, maize, aubergines, onions, tomatoes and more. All of the planting takes place in between Jatropha double hedges in a cropping system called double alley planting. A poultry farm has also been started with chicken, guinea fowls and turkeys.

Between JcL hedges (640x480).jpg

There are many advantages to the Bionic farming system, which avoids the issues of mono cropping and improves water, soil and nutrient management.
Across the JcL hedges (640x480).jpg

A soil improvement program directed at depleted topical soils has been initiated involving biochar in combination with a system of mineral and biological amendments like mycorrhiza. Mid term only natural fertilizers will be used, like the Jatropha press cake, manure from our poltry farm, compost and more.

The model roll out will integrate a microfuel plant with agricultural "waste" as feedstock. It will come primarily from the annual pruning of the Jatropha hedges plus any additional waste deriving from growing food crops. The fuel will be used for the farm equipment, the biochar mixed with above mentioned biofertilizers and additives will return to the fields. Given the 100% use of biofuel and the additional carbon sequestration through adding the biochar to the soil should result in an actual carbon negative footprint of the farm.

In order to fill some availability gaps and to further improve the model BPL has decided to embark on its own R&D activities. A breeding program for Jatropha curcas Linn and localized food crops and a soil amendment biochar++ program are included to develop sustained optimal soil conditions in the tropical environment. Both programs have started and involve cooperations with strong research partners in the related fields.

Our R&D objectives:
Breeding programs:

  • Locally adapted elite, non-toxic Jatropha varieties
  • Localized improved varieties for tomatoes, chili pepper and aubergines


  • Soil amendment concepts based on biochar that will overcome the agricultural issues of tropical savannah soil

I will certainly write more about both programs in the near future. in the mean time you can have a look at our extensive geotagged picture gallery documenting the development of the test farm from the very beginning.