Jatropha, a Wild Plant, Seen as Future Biofuel

August 1, 2009 by  
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By Melanie Thornton

Jatropha Tree, also known as the Bioenergy Tree, is seen by many as the biofuel of the future. This tree produces non-edible oil seeds that can be used to generate biodiesel. Unlike the commonly known corn-based ethanol, jatropha is able to travel through our current pipeline system and is now used in Florida to fuel several diesel-based trucks. Why Jatropha? The fast-growing jatropha has the capability to grow in warm, harsh conditions, requires little watering, is resistant to drought and requires low maintenance. The amount of oil produced per acre can yield up to ten times the amount of other sources for biodiesel according to experts. Jatropha is a persistent crop and full of benefits. It lasts up to 50 years without replanting and is a perfect organic fertilizer since the external shell of the seed is full of nitrogen compounds. After 5 years of growing on land unsuitable for agriculture, the jatropha has cured the soil making it pertinent for planting trees and growing food crops. This plant is viewed as a new commodity in crop rotation. It will not compete with farmers trying to grow food which sounds like a perfect plant for struggling farmers to begin harvesting. Yet, since jatropha has never been previously cultivated on a large scale, farmers are skeptical about the vitality, variability and long-term impacts of this almost perfect crop. Still, some see the potential investment of jatropha biofuel. The current environmental, economic and energy concerns about the rapid use of petroleum is forcing corporations to divert attention to alternatives of fossil fuel sources. Ardent supporters understand that there needs to be more research and work done to discover conditions where jatropha will thrive best.

With the discovery of alternative fuel sources, addressing the enduring impact of global warming is imperative. And jatropha produces no net increase of carbon dioxide, which in essence, is superlative. While this plant is growing jatropha absorbs carbon dioxide, and then effectively cancels out the carbon dioxide it releases once it is burned.

Major corporations’ are still highly interested in the jatropha tree. On June 29, BP and D1 Oils have partnered in their efforts to from a 50/50 joint venture and announced their project titled “D1-BP Fuel Crops Limited.” This catalyst venture will further the planting and growth of jatropha in order to produce biodiesel on a much larger and sustainable scale. The cultivation will take place around the world in India, Southern Africa, South East Asia and South and Central America. And in the next five years, the two companies plan to invest roughly $160 million. BP’s chief executive officer Iain Conn says “this joint venture is a further milestone in our strategy to develop real avenues to contribute to global energy supplies in ways that are sustainable and progressive.” Have we yet to put the discovery of jatropha biodiesel to use? Well, yes! This past January, Continental Airlines completed a two-hour test flight from Houston using a 50/50 mixture of jatropha oil and algae. Using this biofuel mixture to fly a Boeing 737, the test flight was a success and marked the first step for the airline industry to use more cost effective fuel. This mixture is also more affable to the environment and does not deplete the Earth from its already limited supply of fossil fuel. All in all, there are great visions and high highs for using the jatropha tree as an alternative biodiesel source. We may only envision that one day the jatropha tree will be one of our sources of alternative biofuel; leave Mother Earth to thrive in her own beauty.

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