12 February 2008

Jatropha: Another Look

Jatropha curcus is a semi-tropical shrub yielding non-edible seed oils, that grows well on marginal soilsand actually improves the quality of the soil in which it grows. Jatropha yields 3000 kg of oil per hectare, compared to 375 kg/hectare for soybean oil, and 1000 kg/hectare for rapeseed oil.
Jatropha is seen by many to be the perfect biodiesel crop. It can be grown in very poor soils actually generating top soil as it goes, is drought and pest resilient, and it has seeds with up to 40% oil content.

Here are some facts and figures about Jatropha relating to its growth as an oil product:

- Jatropha grows well on low fertility soils however increased yields can be obtained using a fertilizer containing small amounts of magnesium, sulphur, and calcium.
- Jatropha can be intercropped with many cash crops such as coffee, sugar, fruits and vegetables with the Jatropha offering both fertilizer and protection against livestock.
- Jatropha needs at least 600mm of rain annually to thrive however it can survive three years of drought by dropping its leaves.
- Jatropha is excellent at preventing soil erosion, and the leaves it drops act as a wonderful soil enriching mulch.
- Jatropha prefers alkaline soils.
After the first five years, the typical annual yield of a jatropha tree is 3.5kg of beans.
- Jatropha trees are productive for up to 30-40 years.
- 2,200 trees can be planted per hectare (approx 1,000 per acre).
- 1 hectare should yield around 7 tonnes of seeds per year.
- The oil pressed from 4kg of seeds is needed to make 1 litre of biodiesel.
- 91%+ of the oil can be extracted with cold pressing.
- 1 hectare should yield around 2.2-2.7 tonnes of oil.
- Press cake (seedcake) is left after the oil is pressed from the seeds. This can be composted and used as a high grade nitrogen rich organic fertilizer (green manure). The remaining oil can be used to make skin friendly soap.


Jatropha will not grow well wherever there is appreciable frost. But Jatropha can be grown on plantations in the tropics, eg Mexico, and shipped to industrial North America for processing, as in this newsrelease.
More on the jatropha plant

Jatropha is an ideal crop for third world nations in need of a local source of diesel, since it requires little cultivation, has a higher yield than most other oil seeds, can be grown along with other crops, does not have to be re-planted every year like many other oil seed crops, and improves the soil while discouraging crop foraging by wildlife and domestic stock.

Eventually, algal biodiesel will outcompete oil seed crops, for high volume industrial production. In the meantime, imported jatropha seed for local processing may offer cost advantages over food crop oil seeds. In a later post, I will look at the advantages and disadvantages of jatropha vs. palm oil.

FEEDSTOCK Country Yield/hectare (kg) Rate per barrel(US$)
RAPESEED OIL Europe 1000 78
PALM OIL Malaysia 5000 46

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Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

Given how weak the energy supply is in many of these nations and how much employment is needed, I wonder if it might not be better for them to set up processing facilities closer to where it is grown. It could either power generators for businesses and institutions that need reliable backup or power buses and delivery transportation. I suspect that we have more time to develop alternatives whereas the tropical nations need power and continued economic development now. We might even have time to design better and more energy efficient greenhouses that could grow the plant for several years without risk of frost.

It would also allow them to fully exploit the potential without having to contend with environmentally aware socialists blocking the "exploitation" of the south by rich westerners.

Tuesday, 12 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

We could use greenhouses for jatropha, but algae promises much higher yields. The problem with biofuels is scaling them up to replace petroleum in industrial countries. Trees take up a lot of space, and oilseed crops like soy have to be planted and carefully cultivated, year after year, with relatively low yields and alot of waste.

North America (and the west) needs algal biodiesel and biopetroleum. We need microorganism-produced fuels made in inexpensive bioreactors. Craig Venter and other biologists are trying to develop synthetic organisms to make high-yield biofuels, but I suspect by then, algae will have been trained to perform quite well.

Jatropha is good for third world rural, agricultural environments. It can be grown alongside food crops and even helps the food crops grow better. They don't have to cut down tropical forests to grow jatropha.

Wednesday, 13 February, 2008  

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