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By Robert Rapier on Sep 9, 2007 with no responses

Jatropha in NYT

An interesting jatropha story in today’s New York Times:

Mali’s Farmers Discover a Weed’s Potential Power

It will be archived pretty soon, but here are a couple of excerpts to chew on:

But now that a plant called jatropha is being hailed by scientists and policy makers as a potentially ideal source of biofuel, a plant that can grow in marginal soil or beside food crops, that does not require a lot of fertilizer and yields many times as much biofuel per acre planted as corn and many other potential biofuels.

When I was working on my renewable diesel chapter, it was pretty clear to me that jatropha has significant potential as a source of renewable diesel. I did some calculations examining potential yields of a massive jatropha effort. It is still not a silver bullet, but could be one of the better silver BBs.

The only major down side, pulled straight from my chapter:

Jatropha has one significant downside. Jatropha seeds and leaves are toxic to humans and livestock. This led the Australian government to ban the plant in 2006. It was declared an invasive species, and “too risky for Western Australian agriculture and the environment here” (DAFWA 2006).

A bit more from NYT:

Jatropha’s proponents say it avoids the major pitfalls of other biofuels, which pose significant environmental and social risks. Places that struggle to feed their populations, like Mali and the rest of the arid Sahel region, can scarcely afford to give up cultivable land for growing biofuel crops. Other potential biofuels, like palm oil, have encountered resistance by environmentalists because plantations have encroached on rain forests and other natural habitats.

But jatropha can grow on virtually barren land with relatively little rainfall, so it can be planted in places where food does not grow well. It can also be planted beside other crops farmers grow here, like millet, peanuts and beans, without substantially reducing the yield of the fields; it may even help improve output of food crops by, among other things, preventing erosion and keeping animals out.

Jatropha is worth a long, hard look. In my opinion, it is one of few sustainable options we currently have with significant long-term potential.

Reference

DAFWA, Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia. (2006). Jatropha Banned in WA. Retrieved August 3, 2007 from http://www.agric.wa.gov.au/content/sust/biofuel/191006jatrophe.pdf