Geldof has joined biomass company Helius, which is listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM), as a special adviser.
The company is currently in discussion with Eskom to supply the South African power utility with renewable energy, generated mainly from biomass.
Speaking at a press conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Geldof said that green energy could simulate the economic growth required to lift Africa from poverty.
He pointed out that the failure of the Doha Development Round – the World Trade Organisation negotiations that aimed to lower trade barriers around the world, permitting free trade between countries of varying prosperity – and the unlikelihood of a standalone trade agreement for Africa, made it all the more important to find a solution for Africa’s farmers.
Geldof, who has been associated with various charity drives focusing on Africa – including Live Aid and Live 8 – spoke to the media after returning from a trip to Swaziland where he visited jatropha curcas plantations planted by biodiesel producer D1 Oils.
Pointing to a jatropha curcas seedling on the table, Geldof said that “the potential effect of this little fellow is enormous”.
Geldof said that he was impressed by the “life-changing” potential that the cultivation of jatropha curcas trees could have on poverty-stricken African communities.
The oil expelled from the tree’s seeds can be processed into biofuels and the remaining plant material can be used to fire biomass energy-generation plants.
“I do not use the word life-changing lightly,” Geldof said, adding that jatrophas curcas was the first solution that he had seen in his 23 years of involvement with African causes that offered Africans jobs, cash crops and economic power.
Geldof was accompanied by Helius Energy chairperson Alex Worrall and Helius Energy co-founder and D1 Oils Africa CEO Demetri Pappadopoulos.
Pappadopoulos said that every hectare of jatropha curcas would produce 2,7 tons of oil and 4,4 tons of biomass.
D1 Oils Africa has obtained rights to plant more than 40 000 ha of jatropha curcas in Africa, including Swaziland and Zambia.
However, the South African Department of Agriculture is yet to publish its policy on Jatropha curcas, which is currently viewed as an invasive tree.
Pappadopoulos said that the first power from jatropha curcas biomass could be produced in the next three years when D1 Oils Africa expects to harvest the first commercial crops in Swaziland and Zambia.
Besides being in discussion with Eskom, Helius Energy is in talks with the government of Zambia concerning the establishment of new power plants and the upgrading of existing facilities.
The company is also in discussion with the Swazi government for a power supply agreement.
In addition to using biomass from jatropha curcas, Helius is also investigating the potential of using other biomass sources including the plant material remaining from bioethanol production.
In another development, petrochemical giant BP and D1 Oils Africa’s parent company, AIM-listed D1 Oils, have announced plans to establish a global joint venture based on the planting of Jatropha curcas trees.
D1 Oils Africa corporate affairs executive Penny Healy tells Engineering News that the proposed joint venture – which is subjected to the approval of D1 shareholders at an extraordinary general meeting to be held in the next few weeks – is “a huge vote of confidence” for cultivating jatropha curcas as a feedstock for biodiesel production.