Jatropha: A Non-Food, Non-Celluolosic Biofuel Source?

Jan. 1, 2020
LONDON (July 27,2007) - BP has joined 50/50 with a UK biofuel firm, D1 Oils Ltd, in a 2.5 million acre, $160 million program to step up production of non-food and non-cellulosic based biodiesel fuel. The new fuel source is drought-resistant jatropha
Jatropha: A Non-Food, Non-Celluolosic Biofuel Source 
The DP-BP joint venture plans to transition from initial cultivation to producing and selling biodiesel blends. (Photo: D1 Oils plc)LONDON (July 27,2007) - BP has joined 50/50 with a UK biofuel firm, D1 Oils Ltd, in a 2.5 million acre, $160 million program to step up production of non-food and non-cellulosic based biodiesel fuel. The new fuel source is drought-resistant jatropha oil seed trees, grown on wasteland with little need for water, fertilizer or pesticides.  The venture, named "D1-BP Fuel Crops," will expand from the current 430,000 acres owned by D1 Oils and capitalize on its "elite" jatropha seedlings developed by the firm's plant science program. Higher energy yield
D1 Oils agrees with the consensus among the world scientific community that global warming caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is a fact. Internal combustion engines account for between 20-30% of global emissions. In addition, emissions of CO2 and other GHGs from transport are among the fastest growing contributors to global warming. (Photo: P. Susani, www.jatropha.de) According to published reports, jatropha oil seeds yield 10 times more energy per acre of raw material compared with ethanol from corn, and four times more compared with biodiesel from soybean oil. The planned 2.5 million acres may be increased later by 300,000 acres per year. The venture's existing properties and plantations are in India, South Africa and southeastern Asia. Plans call for the partners to directly manage plantations on owned and leased land, and operate through contract farming and seed purchase programs. Available information on jatropha oil seed trees explains that its experimental work for use as fuel was started by India's agricultural agency in cooperation with Mercedes, which identified and demonstrated that jatropha oil seed trees could thrive in the poor soil and climate conditions of the India salt desert province of Gujarat, one of many areas in the world where most trees have been harvested - leaving the soil to erode and become nearly useless for food or fiber production. Jatropha trees rejuvenate the soil when their leaves drop to form valuable mulch. Lower production costs

Jatropha oil seed is said to be converted to biofuel at low cost by the transesterification process (the reaction of a triglyceride with an alcohol to form esters and glycerol). Mercedes road tests of diesel cars with early samples of jatropha-based fuel found it to have high energy content (95 percent of conventional diesel fuel) and high cetane, and produce 50 percent less hydrocarbon and 66 percent less particulate matter emissions over petroleum fuel. One study reported that the cost to grow and refine jatropha biodiesel is in the range from $0.32 to $0.40/liter (approximately $1.28 to $1.60 per gallon).  The D1-BP Fuel Crops announcement indicates that a portion of jatropha biodiesel would be used locally, and partly exported to the EU for blending with conventional diesel fuel to meet EU requirements for bio blend percentages. Third World impact
Jatropha is grown widely around the world, most notably in developing countries. (Photo: www.jatropha.de)

Asked about the impact the new biofuel source might have on food cropland, D1-Oils Chief Executive Officer Elliott Mannis states that "we will use land unsuitable for arable crops." He adds that his firm sees potential for jatropha biodiesel production in India, southern Africa, southeastern Asia, Central and South America and the Philippines.

Published information indicates that India alone has 160 million acres of land classified as wasteland, and another 430 million acres said to have some degree of degradation. Considering that jatropha trees, according to one estimate, are expected to produce 6.5 barrels of oil/acre/yr and the trees last for an average of 40 years, the world potential for biodiesel from this source may be considerable. The current $160 million investment certainly indicates the potential is large - and the outlook predictable, since its use as diesel fuel has already begun.

Mercedes points to one incentive for advancing jatropha biodiesel: to achieve local fuel sustainability, plus jobs and purchasing power in rural areas. 

Jatropha's implications will also energize debate on the current use of food crops, such as corn and soybeans, for fuel. If jatropha trees can be grown in Central America, it might be a factor for export to the US - if not hobbled by tariffs, as happened with sugar-based ethanol. 

(Source: D1 Oils plc)

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