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Weed to Wonder Fuel? Jatropha Draws Biofuel Investors — and Questions

The Plants Can Grow on Marginal Land, But Will Marginal Land Be Used?

By Dave Levitan

Apr 13, 2010

In the world of biofuels, the pattern is familiar: Concerns grow over one crop’s impacts or overhyped potential, and another then appears to take its place with promises of planet-saving prowess.

The latest savior is jatropha, a drought-resistant and hardy plant that supposedly can deliver high energy yields on marginal land and eliminate concerns about food competing with fuel for farmland.

Only a few large-scale jatropha projects have begun around the world, but their potential is drawing investors' attention. U.S. automaker General Motors just a five-year partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and India’s Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute to demonstrate the commercial viability of jatropha as a biofuel feedstock.

That commercial viability GM is looking for will depend on the yields of a crop that up until recently was considered simply a weed.

Yield Hopes and Hype

Native to South America, jatropha has been transplanted as a biofuel crop to tropical areas around the world, with momentum growing in India and Africa.

As of 2008, covered 2.2 million acres; those numbers are likely much higher now, and they will continue to grow as more companies vie to get in on the ground floor of the next miracle energy crop and countries like India and China expand their biofuel demand. The Global Exchange for Social Investment in its 2008 report that 32 million acres would be in production by 2015.

“I think there is good reason to have hopes for it,” said , a research associate at environmental group Worldwatch Institute.

“That being said, whenever you try and take a plant like that that has typically been a pest or a weed, and then you try and cultivate it intentionally, that’s where the problems come in.

"A lot of the testing for jatropha has been under controlled circumstances, and it has had very high yields, and then when you move it out of the controlled environments and on to the marginal lands, of course the yields go down. So there is a question about the actual scale that you could do it at.”

Estimates of jatropha's biofuel production potential vary. Several put the oil yield at about 200 gallons per acre per year, or even higher; this would place it second only to palm oil — environmental scourge of forests in Indonesia and Malaysia — on the productivity list among common agricultural biofuel crops.

Achieving those yields on a large scale, though, will most likely require better than “marginal” lands and better than primitive farming practices.

“It is highly uncertain, because no one has really gone in there and done a comparative study to actually examine what the yields are across various landscapes,” said Jennifer Baka, a researcher at Yale University who will soon head to India and Brazil to study some of those unknown details of the jatropha plant.

“But most of the academic literature is casting doubt; the initial hype was that you can get 15 kilograms of seeds per tree per year. That’s unrealistic, most of the stuff in India now is at about 1.5 kg of seeds per year, and that’s with applying fertilizer and irrigating.”

What is Marginal?

In Central America, the United Biofuels of America industry group is supporting a project known as the . It aims to eventually produce 2 million gallons of jatropha-based biodiesel per day, from about 605,000 acres of land.

Your news process sounds very Interesting

I work for a specialist investment company who currently have a packaged Jatropha Biofuel investment opportunity that we are receiving a lot of interest in

Most are UK investors but we have had people from all round the world.

I'll be sure to send your website to our partners who have the plantations and are processing the Jatropha info the biofuel to see if it is of interest.



It is right that Jatropha is still a weed. that means that there is still a lot of potential for breeding and optimization by biotechnology...

New Process For Converting Jatropha Into Fuel

Our company has developed a process to convert Jatropha Oil into a biofuel we call GEN2 Renewable Diesel. This is an alternative to the Methanol/Lye process that is expensive, time consumin,g and bad for the environment. We are seeking investors to build a processing plant in India. Email:

This was a very informative

This was a very informative article about the use of alternative ideas for the production of biofuels. I think it's essential to an efficient future for the companies to understand the importance and relevance of using biodiesel fuel.

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