How did process technology researchers contribute to Jatropha promotion in Indonesia?

By Suraya Afiff

Quote: “In collaboration with process technicians from the Netherlands (Groningen), the researchers extracted jatropha oil and used it in stationary engines. [….] In turn, process technology researchers used these extrapolations to create a narrative that made jatropha appear to be an attractive and environmentally friendly bioenergy crop for agro-ecological zones where the production of oil palm would not be possible or profitable.”

The importance of a transnational network of actors in promoting new ideas in the national and international arenas has been widely discussed. The dynamics of national and international networks is complex, with actors in the developing countries also playing an active role in determining the future direction of the new idea or technology being promoted. Using data drawing from interviews and written documents such as reports, newspaper articles and slide presentations, I explored the histories of the early promotion of jatropha-related activities and the actors who have been involved in them. Through this research I discovered the important role of technology researchers in Indonesia, and their counterparts in the Netherlands, in the recent national promotion of jatropha in Indonesia. This collaboration between scholars in Indonesia and the Netherlands helped in enhancing the promotion of jatropha (1).

Since the end of the 1990s, a group of researchers in the Bandung Institute for Technology (ITB, Institut Teknologi Bandung) had been interested in exploring the potential of biomass for alternative energy. In the beginning they were all based at the Center for Research on Sustainable Energy (Pusat Penelitian Material dan Energy), under the leadership of Dr. Tatang H. Soerawidjaja (2). Jatropha was one of the crops that they investigated for its potential use for feedstock. It was Dr. Soerawidjaja who first introduced the idea in 2001 at a national government ad hoc committee meeting on renewable energy (3). A year later, in 2002, they began to conduct a technical study on the potential uses of jatropha oil for diesel engines (4). From early on, Dr. Soerawidjaja’s interest was in promoting biodiesel development based on multiple feedstocks rather than focusing on jatropha alone. His future work was to promote the consistent implementation of national policy on biodiesel. He was one of the key initiators in the formation of the Indonesia Biodiesel Forum (Forum Biodiesel Indonesia) in 2002, in which he served as the head of the forum. The purpose of this forum, whose members consisted of government officials, scholars and private entrepreneurs, was to develop the road map for the commercialization of biodiesel in Indonesia and to intensify the campaign to gain the support of policymakers in the implementation of biodiesel policy in Indonesia (5).

Dr. Robert Manurung, who received his PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, in 1994, was also one of Dr. Soerawidjaja’s colleagues at the Center. While some of the ITB engineers at the Center preferred the conversion of jatropha plant oil into biodiesel for blending purposes, Dr. Manurung’s interest lay in exploring easier ways to extract jatropha oil from the seed and use it directly as an alternative fuel without the complex treatment required for producing fuel. He was actively advertising the idea of using jatropha oil directly for diesel to a number of civil society groups, officials and entrepreneurs. In 2005 he moved to the other center at ITB and became the head of the Center for Biotechnology in order to make further progress on the idea of promoting the use of pure plant oil (PPO) and the byproduct extracted from the seed of Jatropha curcas (6, 7).

It was Dr. Manurung who in 2004 introduced the information about the use of Jatropha curcas for renewable energy to Professor Erik Heeres when they submitted a collaborative research proposal seeking funding from the Dutch government. Dr. Manurung understood that this global developments would provide business opportunities, because legal blending mandates in Europe and elsewhere would create a strong market for biofuel. Academic collaboration with colleagues at the University of Groningen under the leadership of Professor Erik Heeres, Dr. Manurung’s classmate during their graduate student years, promoted the process of getting the maximum value out of Jatropha curcas as a source of renewable energy and bio-based products, contributing to further developing the bio‐refinery concept (8). In the bio-refinery concept “…biomass is used as the input and converted in an integrated and energy and material efficient manner to bio-based chemicals, biofuels, and bio-energy” (9, p. 1). The Dutch government research grant enabled them to conduct research on jatropha between 2006 and 2011, involving eight Indonesian researchers (8, p. 188).

Dr. Manurung and his colleague, Professor Heeres, were also inspired by the international promotion of jatropha. Their interests were shaped by information emerging from two international events.

First was the information that emerged from the first large-scale jatropha plantation in Nicaragua, established in 1990 and sponsored by the Austrian government. In 1997 this project organized the first jatropha conference and the subsequent proceedings (10, 11). This information was used by researchers at ITB and the University of Groningen as the basis for designing their research funding proposal. The second source of information was the jatropha project initiatives established in India. In 2003 the Indian government passed a policy to establish 11 million hectares of jatropha cultivation in the state forest and other public lands across the country (12). But the international publicity of the jatropha project in India lasted some time, and was particularly prominent in 2004, when the western media became excited about an initiative of DaimlerChrysler India, an Indian branch of the German car company. This company announced their success in testing a Mercedes Benz C-Class using 100% jatropha oil (13, 14). At about the same time, D1 Oils, an investment firm registered in London, also made an ambitious plan to establish jatropha plantations and refining facilities in various countries, i.e. South Africa, India, Ghana, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, the Philippines, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and Madagascar (15). A company spokesperson told reporters that in India alone D1 Oils was planning to develop five million hectares of jatropha plantation between 2004 and 2009 (14). Around the same time, European governments began discussing mandatory biofuel blending in the context of reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuel to address the climate change problem. Between 2004 and 2007, widespread concerns about the rapid increase of world fossil fuel priced provided important momentum for promoting jatropha as an alternative source of fuel.

Announcement of the Jatropha expedition in the National Geographic Indonesia magazine in 2006.

In the first years of the collaboration between the Indonesian and Dutch research institutes, Dr. Manurung played an important role in organizing the event that significantly influenced public opinion about jatropha, and that contributed to the hype in Indonesia. This event was the Jatropha Expedition, which was held from July 12 to 20 of 2006. In this expedition, three cars fueled with jatropha oil drove from Atambua in East Nusa Tenggara (Nusa Tenggara Timur) to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, over a total distance of 3,200 kilometers. As a main sponsor of the expedition, the journal National Geographic Indonesia gave impressive media coverage,* while PT BioChem Prima International, a company interested in investing in jatropha seed production, supported the expedition financially and ITB provided technical expertise. The expedition was a great means of extensive public dissemination of the idea of this alternative fuel, while the participation of Professor Erik Heeres in the test drive emphasized the international character of this technological innovation. In each of the major cities they passed through during the expedition, local government officials and local organizations had organized a variety of jatropha promotional activities, such as planting jatropha trees. When the expedition arrived at its final destination, the presidential palace in Jakarta, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono delivered a supportive speech to the crowd of journalists, officials, scientists and other audience members (16).

The jatropha expedition had triggered widespread public enthusiasm about jatropha. Also, it proved to be instrumental in convincing the Indonesian government to issue legislation in support of biofuel production and to allocate funds for supporting jatropha cultivation and processing, and for conducting scientific research on this crop. Some companies and international aid organizations also joined the government in funding jatropha projects.

In 2010 Professor Heeres reflected on the years of collaboration with researchers from Indonesia in a video made during the International Jatropha Curcas Conference in Groningen (17).

In conclusion, this brief article underscores the important role of these technology processes and actors in influencing the promotion of jatropha in Indonesia and elsewhere. Organizing a car test drive was one of the main instruments used to convince the public about the potential future of jatropha for alternative energy. Other lessons we can draw from this case study are the ways in which jatropha was promoted in Indonesia, as well as the ways in which Indonesian actors and projects helped international actors to promote jatropha to the public in the Netherlands.


  1. S. A. Afiff, Engineering the jatropha hype in indonesia. Sustainability 20146(4), 1686-1704.  
  2. T. H. Soerawidjaja, Menjadikan biodiesel sebagai bagian dari liquid fuel mix di indonesia, powerpoint presentation during the meeting of government energy team, May 2, 2001.
  3. T. H. Soerawidjaja, personal communication, April 5, 2012.
  4. Y. A. Fatimah, Justice in uncertaintly: The case of bio-fuel development in indonesia, paper presented at the 8th International Conference: Making Innovation Work for Society: Linking, Leveraging and Learning (Globelics 2010), University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur (2010).
  5. Tim Nasional Pengembangan BBN, BBN – bahan bakar nabati: Bahan bakar alternatif dari tumbuhan sebagai pengganti minyak bumi dan gas. Jakarta: Penebar Swadaya (2007).
  6. Y. A. Fatimah, S. Yuliar, Opening the indonesian bio-fuel box: How scientists modulate the social. International Journal of Actor-Network Theory and Technological Innovation 1(2), 1-12 (2009).
  7. “Minyak jarak pengganti solar,” Kompas, March 15, 2005.
  8. R. Manurung, D. A. Z. Wever, J. Wildschut, R. H. Venderbosch, H. Hidayat, J. E. G. van Dam, J. E. G., Leijenhorst, E. J., Broekhuis, A. A, H. J. Heeres, Valorisation of jatropha curcas l. Plant parts: Nut shell conversion to fast pyrolysis oil. Food and Bioproducts Processing, 87(3), 187-196 (2009).
  9. L. Daniel, “Valorisation of Indonesian plant oil resources,” Ph.D. thesis, University of Groningen (2012).
  10. GEXSI, Global Market Study on Jatropha (The Global Exchange for Social Investment (GEXSI), London/Berlin, 2008).
  11. G. M. Gübitz, M. Mittelbach and M. Trabi, Eds., Biofuel and Industrial Products from Jatropha Curcas (The Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sucher & Hozer, Gaz, 1997).
  12. Government of India, “Report of the committee on development of biofuel” (Planning Commission Government of India, New Delhi, 2003).
  13. V. Jagannathan, Mercedes benz to run on jatropha oil, April 22, 2004; retrieved from
  14. K. Sieg, Nut-oil to biodiesel: Jatropha curcas, an undemanding plant for biodiesel production. Agriculture & Rural Development 2(2), 37-39 (2007).   
  15. Kavitha, D1 oils. Agriculture & Industry Survey (2005); retrieved from
  16. A link to the president’s speech in bahasa Indonesia can be found on
  17. See

*The advertising which appeared at the National Geographic Indonesia.

How did the idea of using Jatropha for biofuel emerge in Indonesia?

By Suraya Afiff

Quote: Jatropha development for modern biofuel production in Indonesia started in 1994.” 

Publications about jatropha usually start with the hype and subsequently explain the downfall. They skip the history leading to the hype, and do not explain why policymakers selected jatropha oil production as the most promising solution to their problems, assuming that those policymakers identified climate change, fossil-fuel depletion and rural poverty as the core problems. The history of the introduction of jatropha in Indonesia does not confirm these assumptions, but rather draws attention to a process that has been going on for more than a century, in which distinct types of actors, each with their own objectives and narratives about jatropha, dominated the activities concerning the plant in successive phases.

When and how was jatropha introduced in Indonesia? I searched for an answer in various  sources such as newspaper archives, academic articles, reports, seminar presentations and websites. This search led me to the conclusion that the national history of Jatropha curcas in Indonesia can be divided into three periods, each with its own key actors who introduced or re-introduced the crop for a specific purpose.

The first period was more than a century ago. Jatropha curcas, which is called jarak pagar in Indonesia, is not a native plant of this country. Portuguese traders helped to spread this plant from its native homeland in Central America to Africa, then later on to Asia – including Indonesia – around the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (1). Jatropha curcas has now spread across Indonesia as a wild plant, and is particularly prevalent in the coastal areas of the islands in the eastern region. However, Jatropha curcas has often been confused with castor, which is also called jarak in Indonesia (2, 3). There is no specific record indicating that there has been extensive trade of Jatropha curcas seeds in or from Indonesia. In this first period jatropha was sometimes used as a home medicine for its laxative and antiseptic properties (4).

The second period, which is prominent in the collective memory in Indonesia, is the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945 (3, 5, p. 5; 6, 7). Many Indonesians still remember how the Japanese rulers forced the native people to grow and collect jarak seeds, which was actually a combination of both castor and jatropha seeds (3, 7). Jatropha trees were planted on people’s land as fences. Schoolchildren and their teachers had to collect seeds and hand them over to the Japanese authorities, who exported them to their home country as raw material for making lubricants for military equipment (8). This activity was discontinued immediately after the Japanese lost the war and Indonesia declared its independence. After independence, whenever fuel for lamps was scarce, people in rural areas like Sumba and Flores used jatropha oil pressed from the seeds and mixed with cotton to make torches. The use of jatropha seed as a lubricant or lamp oil during the Japanese era helped to convince people later on about the potential of this crop as feedstock for alternative fuel.

The third period is the era of jatropha development for modern biofuel production. There are differences in opinion about when this period commenced. Some sources focus on the first known academic research project aimed at developing biofuel from jatropha, mentioning 1994 as a landmark year, when Robert Manurung started his work at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) (9,10). Other sources (11,12) choose 2001 as the landmark year, when Professor Tatang of ITB made the first presentation about jatropha for biofuel at a national seminar. In that presentation, he mentioned a jatropha project in Nicaragua that became a source of inspiration leading him to propose a pilot jatropha project in Indonesia. However, most publications about jatropha in Indonesia refer to 2005 as the first landmark year (13) when the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono included jatropha in new policies for producing biofuel as a global commodity. During the following period in the history of jatropha in Indonesia, the engineers from ITB were no longer the only key actors influencing the dissemination of the idea of commercializing Jatropha curcas for fuel, but were joined by government officials, NGOs and project developers.

In summary, the idea of using jatropha for producing biofuel was not new in Indonesia in the early years of the twenty-first century. The modern global narratives about fossil-fuel depletion and energy crises arguments for growing jatropha were supported by the popularity and familiarity in rural areas of jatropha as a wild plant providing oil for traditional lamps, and by a collective memory of jatropha as an energy crop for industrial processing during the Japanese occupation.


  1. A. M. Achten, R. N. Lene, A. Raf, G. L. Ard, D. K. Erik, T. Antonio, T.; Jon, K. H., Wouter, H. M., Lars, G., Festus, K. A., Bart, Toward domestication of jatropha curcas. Biofuel 1(1), 91-107 (2010).
  2. T. H. Soerawidjaja, personal communication, April 5, 2012.
  3. B. Susilo, “Say goodbye to exploding lpg canisters,” Jakarta Post, August 24, 2010; retrieved from
  4. J. Kloppenburg-Versteegh, Wenken en Raadgevingen Betreffende het Gebruik van Indische Planten, Vruchten etc. (Service Katwijk, Katwijk aan Zee, 1978 [1907]).
  5. Y. A. Fatimah, S. Yuliar, Opening the indonesian bio-fuel box: How scientists modulate the social. International Journal of Actor-Network Theory and Technological Innovation 1(2), 1-12 (2009).    
  6. “Marilah kita moelai menanam djarak: Tgl 10 sampai tgl 16/3 pekan penanaman djarak,” Soeara Asia, March 11, 1944.
  7. O. Soemarwoto, “Ubah krisis energi menjadi hikmah,” Kompas, October 17, 2005.
  8. “Berbakti dengan djarak: Toenggak djati mati – djarak meradjak,” Sinar Baroe,  March  28, 1944.
  9. Amir, S.; Nurlaila, I.; Yuliar, S., Cultivating Energy, Reducing Poverty: Biofuel Development in an Indonesian Village. Perspectives on Global Development and Technology, 7, 113-132 (2008).
  10. Gunawan, T. S., Robert Manurung: Inventor of Renewable Green Fuel. Jakarta Post August 8, 2006.
  11. Fatimah, Y. A. Modulasi aktor-aktor bioenergi di perguruan tinggi: Sebuah tinjauan teori jaringan aktor. Magister master, Institut Teknologi Bandung, 2008.
  12. T. H. Soerawidjaja, personal communication, April 5, 2012.
  13. Tim Nasional Pengembangan BBN. Bbn – Bahan Bakar Nabati: Bahan Bakar Alternatif dari Tumbuhan sebagai Pengganti Minyak Bumi dan Gas (Penebar Swadaya, Jakarta, 2007).