Jatropha or Castor oil as a Diesel substitute

BioFuels to Reduce Sri Lanka's Energy Foreign Exchange Expenses (pdf version here)

Abstract: BioFuel plants such as Jatropha Curcas (Thel / weta endaru, තෙල් / රට එරඬු )are easily grown in Sri Lanka. Extraction does not require expensive imported machinery or technology unlike solar or wind power. Easily used in existing auto and agricultral machinery.
However, two caveats
a) The Govt/State needs to guranteee a fixed price for seeds/oil regardless of crude oil price.
b) Even partial implemention will reduce much needed foreign exchange for fuel imports.

Sri Lanka is currently absolutely dependent on imports, be it fossil fuels or renewables such as solar for its energy requirements.. The SL fuel import cost was USD 3.2million when crude oil was around USD50/barrel. Worse, it cost as much as all other imports1. Now that crude oil is round USD140 and rising, combined with loss of foreign exchange sources the situation is dire.

Above image source unknown. Please let me know and will credit.

So it is imperative there is at least partial self sufficiency in imports including fuel. Maybe bio fuels such as jatropa or castor oil is a partial answer. Jatropa grows on marginal lands, Areas such as in Sri Lanka's North West (Mannar area) and East Coast (Batticoloa) could be used. Average yield of Jatropa is 1892 liters and Cstor 1,400 liters of oil per year which very very roughly equivalent of one metric ton of Diesel1. The highest inport of Diesel to Sri Lanka was 2,194 Metric Tons in 20172 (1 metric tonne of Diesel is 1176.4 liters). . So, it would appear 2,000 acres of marginal land would make Sri Lanka self sufficient in Diesel. (would appreciate cross check of numbers).

Jatropha Curcas
Rata-erandu, Weta erandu (
තෙල් /රට එරඬු , වැට එරඬු )

Castor Plant (Ricinus Communis)
Beheth Erandu


Extraction of Jatropa or Castor oil does not require expensive refineries, just mechanically using rams or screw presses. Such as small scale coconut oil extrction presses readily available and locally made. As such ideally suited for as a cottage industy and intercropping of jatropa or castor. Assuming price of LKR 200/liter (half price of Diesel at the moment) thats about LKR 200,000 per year per acre.

NOTE: Jatropa oil does not need to be converted to bio-diesel to be used in older diesel engines such SiFang hand tractor engines. Even older Mercedes or Volkswagens can run on Jatropa or Cstor oil and even used frying oil from restaurnts3. (Rudolf Diesel used peanut oil for fuel when he invented the engine in the 1890s). For cars the oil needs to be preheated to 71C/160F to get same viscosity as diesel. Use of veggie oil as a fuel is prohibhited in the US (and I think in the UK too)4.

Local (Eluvamkulama) background

Seeds provided 10+ years ago. Private company
Says large fruits seeds in 6+ months
Uprooted all plants as no market.

2. https://www.ceicdata.com/en/sri-lanka/petroleum-products-supply-and-demand/petroleum-products-demand-annual-local-sales-auto-diesel
4Environmental Protection Agency, which recently issued a statement stating flatly that using vegetable oil as fuel is a violation of the Clean Air Act and that modifying a car for vegetable oil subjects the owner to a $2,750 fine


Sereno A. Barr-Kumarakulasinghe
19th Jun 2022