R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

It’s Always Something

I spend a lot of time thinking about the trade-offs involved with different energy options. Take petroleum, for instance. It offers great convenience, and has been relatively inexpensive for decades. Cheap petroleum has enabled numerous people a level of mobility that had never before been possible. Some of the downsides, though, are that we get air pollution, oil spills, and resource wars. And because of U.S. dependence on petroleum, we find ourselves increasingly at the mercy of regimes hostile to U.S. interests. And when prices go up, money flows out of our economy into theirs. However, we have been willing to live with those trade-offs.

The same trade-offs hold true for renewable energy, and I actually spend a lot more time thinking about those. My near future is going to take me back into the energy sector, trying to work out sustainable, long-term solutions. Sustainable is the key word here. If the renewable option requires fossil fuels, for instance, it isn’t sustainable. It might be sustainable for a long period of time if the fossil fuel inputs are low – or if they consist of fossil fuels that we still possess in abundance – but that brings up other trade-offs.

There is no perfect solution, but there are those in which the trade-offs are more favorable. For a tropical country like Brazil, I think ethanol from sugarcane is a good solution. However, try to scale that up to fuel the world, and you start dealing with more difficult trade-offs. One of the options I think looks good longer-term is green diesel made from either hydrotreating/cracking various plant oils, or from gasifying biomass and then converting it via Fischer-Tropsch to diesel (as Choren is doing).

For the hydrocracking option, the specific plant oil (or animal fat) you use is going to involve more trade-offs. Take palm oil, for instance. It is a prolific producer of oil, to be sure. It has provided a new source of income for many tropical countries. But demand from developed countries has led to massive deforestation as some tropical countries rush to plant palm oil plantations.

Jatropha curcas, which I have written about previously, is an interesting option. The primary attraction is that it can reportedly grow in marginal soil, and it is drought tolerant. Presumably, this would imply that it doesn’t use much water. Not so, according to a recently published paper in PNAS:

The water footprint of bioenergy

In case you can’t read that, the graph shows jatropha as the highest user of water per GJ of fuel produced. Many believe the world faces some very serious issues with availability of fresh water. In that case, an important trade-off will be the amount of water a energy crop uses.

The study doesn’t describe their methodology in detail, so it is difficult for me to critique their result. I can say that other studies have shown that jatropha still produces oil under minimal water requirements:

Response of Jatropha curcas L. to water deficit: Yield, water use efficiency and oilseed characteristics

It may be that the best yields are produced when lots of water is supplied. But then there are locations that would be willing to trade lower oil yields for low water requirements. The point is that these sorts of trade-offs are going to be involved with every energy choice. As the title says, “It’s always something.” But that doesn’t mean we don’t have options.

As we turn increasingly to bioenergy in the future, it is critical that we make choices that minimize the negative side of the trade-offs. Unfortunately, history shows that the group benefiting from the positive side of the trade-off is not always the same group getting hit with the negative side. But for me, this is going to be an important consideration as I search for optimal bioenergy options.

Note: Incidentally, when I was writing this essay, I ran across a very informative source of jatropha information that I hadn’t seen before. There are a lot of nice pictures there: Jatropha Cultivation

June 11, 2009 Posted by | biofuels, jatropha | 16 Comments

The Potential of Jatropha

The previous post provided an introduction to Jatropha curcas, a tropical, oil-producing shrub. In this essay I want to get into why I believe there is great potential for jatropha to make an impact on the world’s energy supply. I will also explain the hurdles that need to be overcome.

Jatropha Curcas in India (Photo courtesy of Tree Oils India Limited.)

The Potential

Jatropha has many qualities that make it an attractive biofuel option. One, it is tolerant of dry conditions and marginal soils. This is a big plus, because it opens up areas for cultivation that would otherwise be unsuitable. The type of land with great potential is land that is being degraded, or turned into desert. Desertification is a significant problem worldwide, and occurs when dry land is overexploited. Think of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s and you start to get a picture of how desertification impacts and threatens lives.

There are techniques for combating desertification. Plants that can grow on dry, marginal land have the potential to start providing a matrix for the soil to prevent the soil from being eroded by the wind. There are a number of candidate plants that can be used to combat desertification. However, there has to be adequate incentive to grow plants for combating desertification. I suppose the ideal plant would be one that can supply food while at the same time rehabilitating marginal soil. I am unaware of candidate plants in that category, but I presume some exist. A close second, however, would be a plant that can provide a quality fuel – and thus a cash crop – on marginal soil. Jatropha curcas is such a plant.

Comparison with Palm Oil

Where can jatropha be used in such a role? Have a look at the graphic below:

It is true that the African Oil Palm, from which palm oil is derived, is a much more prolific producer of oil than is jatropha. In fact, palm oil yields – as high as 5 metric tons per hectare – places the African Oil Palm as the world’s most productive lipid crop. But there are significant disadvantages/risks that go along with palm oil. First is the fact that the range of the African Oil Palm is a narrow band close to the equator (see the graphic above). While this is fine for countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand – where it has provided a valuable cash crop for farmers – it means that India and most of Africa is unsuitable for cultivation.

Of a more serious nature is that expansion of oil palm plantations – driven by biofuel mandates in Western countries – has led to a dramatic expansion in many tropical countries around the equator. In certain locations, expansion of oil palm cultivation has resulted in serious environmental damage as rain forest has been cleared to make room for new oil palm plantations. Deforestation in some countries has been severe, which negatively impacts sustainability criteria, because these tropical forests absorb carbon dioxide and help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Destruction of peat land in Indonesia for oil palm plantations has reportedly caused the country to become the world’s third highest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Because the range of jatropha is much greater, there is substantial potential to alleviate poverty throughout Africa, India, and many poor countries by providing a valuable cash crop for farmers. Further, it is unlikely to contribute to deforestation as more productive oil producers provide greater incentive to go that route. (Note: While the range is clearer greater than for palm oil, native jatropha is not frost resistant, which means the range shown in the figure above is overstated. The graphic indicates that jatropha could be grown in the Dallas area, and we certainly get hard freezes and frost here.)

Reality Check

The essay up until now may make jatropha sound like a real silver bullet for addressing fossil fuel dependence. Alas, there are no silver bullets. And in fact, the hype for jatropha has gotten out of hand. As I noted in the essay describing my trip to India, I found the present situation with jatropha to have been overhyped.

Jatropha has negatives just like every other energy source. First, it is toxic to humans and livestock. As pointed out in the previous essay, the Western Australian government banned jatropha as an undesirable, invasive species in 2006. Second, because it has not been domesticated, yields are highly variable and the fruits ripen over a broad time range. Third, it is labor intensive to gather the fruits and extract the oil. Finally, while it can be grown on marginal land, there has to be a logistical infrastructure in place to economically get it to the market. Much of the world’s marginal land lacks such an infrastucture. For instance, when I was in India last year, I saw great swaths of borderline desert land that might be used to grow jatropha. The problem is that it was all remote, with no infrastructure.

The answer to many of these concerns potentially lies in the fact that jatropha is still a wild plant. Selective breeding and/or genetic engineering likely have great potential to address many of these issues. Because the world is just now beginning to seriously experiment with jatropha, there is naturally a learning curve to climb. It may turn out that some of the issues are indeed insoluble, but I wouldn’t bet on it. What is needed is a serious, dedicated investigation into the genetics of jatropha, in conjunction with a major plant-breeding effort. We need some modern-day Luther Burbanks working on this problem. By doing so, jatropha may one day live up to the hype.

Additional Resources

There are numerous jatropha resources out there. Here is a sampling.

The Jatropha System

The site is quite a rich source of jatropha information, and if you are interested I would encourage you to explore it. It is devoted to the concept of providing renewable energy while creating new opportunities for farmers in poor nations

Jatropha Comes to Florida (3 minute video from Time Magazine)

Jatropha Potential for Haiti

Chhattisgarh plants 100 million jatropha saplings in 3 yrs

Mali’s Farmers Discover a Weed’s Potential Power

Toxic jatropha not magic biofuel crop, experts warn

Yield Per Hectare of Various Lipid Producers

UP to cultivate Jatropha for bio-diesel production

February 15, 2009 Posted by | biodiesel, green diesel, India, jatropha, palm oil, renewable diesel | 11 Comments

The Potential of Jatropha

The previous post provided an introduction to Jatropha curcas, a tropical, oil-producing shrub. In this essay I want to get into why I believe there is great potential for jatropha to make an impact on the world’s energy supply. I will also explain the hurdles that need to be overcome.

Jatropha Curcas in India (Photo courtesy of Tree Oils India Limited.)

The Potential

Jatropha has many qualities that make it an attractive biofuel option. One, it is tolerant of dry conditions and marginal soils. This is a big plus, because it opens up areas for cultivation that would otherwise be unsuitable. The type of land with great potential is land that is being degraded, or turned into desert. Desertification is a significant problem worldwide, and occurs when dry land is overexploited. Think of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s and you start to get a picture of how desertification impacts and threatens lives.

There are techniques for combating desertification. Plants that can grow on dry, marginal land have the potential to start providing a matrix for the soil to prevent the soil from being eroded by the wind. There are a number of candidate plants that can be used to combat desertification. However, there has to be adequate incentive to grow plants for combating desertification. I suppose the ideal plant would be one that can supply food while at the same time rehabilitating marginal soil. I am unaware of candidate plants in that category, but I presume some exist. A close second, however, would be a plant that can provide a quality fuel – and thus a cash crop – on marginal soil. Jatropha curcas is such a plant.

Comparison with Palm Oil

Where can jatropha be used in such a role? Have a look at the graphic below:

It is true that the African Oil Palm, from which palm oil is derived, is a much more prolific producer of oil than is jatropha. In fact, palm oil yields – as high as 5 metric tons per hectare – places the African Oil Palm as the world’s most productive lipid crop. But there are significant disadvantages/risks that go along with palm oil. First is the fact that the range of the African Oil Palm is a narrow band close to the equator (see the graphic above). While this is fine for countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand – where it has provided a valuable cash crop for farmers – it means that India and most of Africa is unsuitable for cultivation.

Of a more serious nature is that expansion of oil palm plantations – driven by biofuel mandates in Western countries – has led to a dramatic expansion in many tropical countries around the equator. In certain locations, expansion of oil palm cultivation has resulted in serious environmental damage as rain forest has been cleared to make room for new oil palm plantations. Deforestation in some countries has been severe, which negatively impacts sustainability criteria, because these tropical forests absorb carbon dioxide and help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Destruction of peat land in Indonesia for oil palm plantations has reportedly caused the country to become the world’s third highest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Because the range of jatropha is much greater, there is substantial potential to alleviate poverty throughout Africa, India, and many poor countries by providing a valuable cash crop for farmers. Further, it is unlikely to contribute to deforestation as more productive oil producers provide greater incentive to go that route. (Note: While the range is clearer greater than for palm oil, native jatropha is not frost resistant, which means the range shown in the figure above is overstated. The graphic indicates that jatropha could be grown in the Dallas area, and we certainly get hard freezes and frost here.)

Reality Check

The essay up until now may make jatropha sound like a real silver bullet for addressing fossil fuel dependence. Alas, there are no silver bullets. And in fact, the hype for jatropha has gotten out of hand. As I noted in the essay describing my trip to India, I found the present situation with jatropha to have been overhyped.

Jatropha has negatives just like every other energy source. First, it is toxic to humans and livestock. As pointed out in the previous essay, the Western Australian government banned jatropha as an undesirable, invasive species in 2006. Second, because it has not been domesticated, yields are highly variable and the fruits ripen over a broad time range. Third, it is labor intensive to gather the fruits and extract the oil. Finally, while it can be grown on marginal land, there has to be a logistical infrastructure in place to economically get it to the market. Much of the world’s marginal land lacks such an infrastucture. For instance, when I was in India last year, I saw great swaths of borderline desert land that might be used to grow jatropha. The problem is that it was all remote, with no infrastructure.

The answer to many of these concerns potentially lies in the fact that jatropha is still a wild plant. Selective breeding and/or genetic engineering likely have great potential to address many of these issues. Because the world is just now beginning to seriously experiment with jatropha, there is naturally a learning curve to climb. It may turn out that some of the issues are indeed insoluble, but I wouldn’t bet on it. What is needed is a serious, dedicated investigation into the genetics of jatropha, in conjunction with a major plant-breeding effort. We need some modern-day Luther Burbanks working on this problem. By doing so, jatropha may one day live up to the hype.

Additional Resources

There are numerous jatropha resources out there. Here is a sampling.

The Jatropha System

The site is quite a rich source of jatropha information, and if you are interested I would encourage you to explore it. It is devoted to the concept of providing renewable energy while creating new opportunities for farmers in poor nations

Jatropha Comes to Florida (3 minute video from Time Magazine)

Jatropha Potential for Haiti

Chhattisgarh plants 100 million jatropha saplings in 3 yrs

Mali’s Farmers Discover a Weed’s Potential Power

Toxic jatropha not magic biofuel crop, experts warn

Yield Per Hectare of Various Lipid Producers

UP to cultivate Jatropha for bio-diesel production

February 15, 2009 Posted by | biodiesel, green diesel, India, jatropha, palm oil, renewable diesel | 11 Comments

Jatropha Curcas

I have written a few posts in the past about Jatropha curcas, a tropical shrub with the potential to make an important contribution to our fuel supplies. (See here and here for previous essays concerning jatropha). While I believe that the present status of jatropha has been exaggerated, I believe the potential is enormous. I want to devote the next couple of essays to why I believe this.

In this essay, I want to provide a synopsis of jatropha by supplying an excerpt from the chapter on renewable diesel that I wrote for Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems: Benefits and Risks. I will fill in some details in the next essay.

———————–

7.1.1 Jatropha



Jatropha curcas is a non-edible shrub native to tropical America, but now found throughout tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia (Augustus et al. 2002). Jatropha is well-suited for growing in arid conditions, has low moisture requirements (Sirisomboon et al. 2007), and may be used to reclaim marginal, desert, or degraded land (Wood 2005). The oil content of the seeds ranges from 30% to 50%, and the unmodified oil has been shown to perform adequately as a 50/50 blend with petroleum diesel (Pramanik 2003). However, as is the case with other bio-oils, the viscosity of the unmodified oil is much higher than for petroleum diesel. The heating value and cetane number for jatropha oil are also lower than for petroleum diesel. This means it is preferable to process the raw oil into biodiesel or green diesel.


Jatropha appears to have several advantages as a renewable diesel feedstock. Because it is both non-edible and can be grown on marginal lands, it is potentially a sustainable biofuel that will not compete with food crops. This is not the case with biofuels derived from soybeans, rapeseed, or palm.


Jatropha seed yields can vary over a very large range – from 0.5 tons per hectare under arid conditions to 12 tons per hectare under optimum conditions (Francis et al. 2005). However, if marginal land is to be used, then yields in the lower range will probably by typical. Makkar et al. determined that the kernel represents 61.3% of the seed weight, and that the lipid concentration represented 53.0% of the kernel weight (Makkar et al. 1997). Therefore, one might conservatively estimate that the average oil yield per hectare of jatropha on marginal, non-irrigated land may be 0.5 tons times 61.3% times 53.0%, or 0.162 tons of oil per hectare. Jatropha oil contains about 90% of the energy density of petroleum diesel, so the energy equivalent yield is reduced by an additional 10% to 0.146 tons per hectare. While this is substantially less than the oil production of soybeans, rapeseed, or palm oil, the potential for production on marginal land may give jatropha a distinct advantage over the higher-producing oil crops.

A commercial venture was announced in June 2007 between BP and D1 Oils to develop jatropha biodiesel (BP 2007). The companies announced that they will invest $160 million with the stated intent of becoming the largest jatropha biodiesel producer in the world. The venture intends to produce volumes of up to 2 million tons of biodiesel per year.

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).

While jatropha has intriguing potential, a number of research challenges remain. Because of the toxicity issues, the potential for detoxification should be studied (Heller 1996). Furthermore, a systematic study of the factors influencing oil yields should be undertaken, because higher yields are probably needed before jatropha can contribute significantly to world distillate supplies (see Calculation 1). Finally, it may be worthwhile to study the potential for jatropha varieties that thrive in more temperate climates, as jatropha is presently limited to tropical climates.

7.1.2 Calculations

Calculation 1: Consider the potential for displacing 10% of the world’s distillate demand of 1.1 billion tons per year with jatropha oil. To replace 10% of the world’s distillate demand will require 110 million tons of distillate to be replaced. Jatropha, with about 10% less energy than petroleum distillates, will require 122 million tons on a gross replacement basis (i.e., not considering energy inputs). On marginal, non-irrigated land the yields will likely be at the bottom of the range of observed yields. At a yield of 0.146 tons per hectare (the lower range of yields), this would require 836 million hectares, which is greater than the 700 million hectares currently occupied by permanent crops.



An estimated 2 billion hectares of land is considered to be degraded and perhaps suitable for jatropha cultivation (Oldeman et al. 1991). There are also an estimated 1.66 billion hectares in Africa that are deemed suitable for jatropha production (Parsons 2005). This could provide a valuable cash crop for African farmers. But, until an estimate is made of the energy inputs required to process and distribute the jatropha-derived fuel on a widespread basis – especially on marginal land – the real potential for adding to the world’s net distillate supply is unknown.

7.2 References

Augustus, G.S., Jayabalan, M., & Seiler, G.J. (2002). Evaluation and bioinduction of energy components of Jatropha curcas. Biomass and Bioenergy., 23, 161-164.

BP. (2007). BP and D1 Oils Form Joint Venture to Develop Jatropha Biodiesel Feedstock. Retrieved July 14, 2007 from the BP corporate web site: http://www.bp.com/genericarticle.do?categoryId=2012968&contentId=7034453

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

Francis, G., Edinger, R. & Becker, K. (2005). A concept for simultaneous wasteland reclamation, fuel production, and socio-economic development in degraded areas in India: Need, potential and perspectives of Jatropha plantations Natural Resources Forum 29 (1), 12–24.

Heller, J. (1996). Physic nut Jatropha Curcas L. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops. Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (Gartersleben) and International Plant Genetic Resources Institute: Rome Vol. 1.

Makkar H., Becker K., Sporer F., & Wink M. (1997). Studies on the nutritive potential and toxic constituents of different provenances of Jatropha curcas. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 45, 3152–3157.

Oldeman, L. R.,. Hakkeling R. T. A., & Sombroek, W. G. (1991). World Map of the Status of Human-induced Soil Degradation: An explanatory note. Wageningen, International Soil Reference and Information Centre, Nairobi, United Nations Environment Programme.

Parsons, K. (2005). Jatropha in Africa: Fighting the Desert & Creating Wealth. EcoWorld. Retrieved July 14, 2007, from http://www.ecoworld.com/home/articles2.cfm?tid=367

Pramanik, K. (2003). Properties and use of Jatropha curcas oil and diesel fuel blends in compression ignition engine. Renewable Energy Journal, 28, (2), 239–248.

Sirisomboon, P., Kitchaiya, P., Pholpho, T., & Mahuttanyavanitch, W. (2007). Physical and mechanical properties of Jatropha curcas L. fruits, nuts and kernels, Biosystems Engineering, 97, (2), 201-207.

Wood, P. (2005). Out of Africa: Could Jatropha vegetable oil be Europe’s biodiesel feedstock?, Refocus, 6 (4), 40-44.

February 14, 2009 Posted by | jatropha | 11 Comments

Jatropha Curcas

I have written a few posts in the past about Jatropha curcas, a tropical shrub with the potential to make an important contribution to our fuel supplies. (See here and here for previous essays concerning jatropha). While I believe that the present status of jatropha has been exaggerated, I believe the potential is enormous. I want to devote the next couple of essays to why I believe this.

In this essay, I want to provide a synopsis of jatropha by supplying an excerpt from the chapter on renewable diesel that I wrote for Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems: Benefits and Risks. I will fill in some details in the next essay.

———————–

7.1.1 Jatropha



Jatropha curcas is a non-edible shrub native to tropical America, but now found throughout tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and Asia (Augustus et al. 2002). Jatropha is well-suited for growing in arid conditions, has low moisture requirements (Sirisomboon et al. 2007), and may be used to reclaim marginal, desert, or degraded land (Wood 2005). The oil content of the seeds ranges from 30% to 50%, and the unmodified oil has been shown to perform adequately as a 50/50 blend with petroleum diesel (Pramanik 2003). However, as is the case with other bio-oils, the viscosity of the unmodified oil is much higher than for petroleum diesel. The heating value and cetane number for jatropha oil are also lower than for petroleum diesel. This means it is preferable to process the raw oil into biodiesel or green diesel.


Jatropha appears to have several advantages as a renewable diesel feedstock. Because it is both non-edible and can be grown on marginal lands, it is potentially a sustainable biofuel that will not compete with food crops. This is not the case with biofuels derived from soybeans, rapeseed, or palm.


Jatropha seed yields can vary over a very large range – from 0.5 tons per hectare under arid conditions to 12 tons per hectare under optimum conditions (Francis et al. 2005). However, if marginal land is to be used, then yields in the lower range will probably by typical. Makkar et al. determined that the kernel represents 61.3% of the seed weight, and that the lipid concentration represented 53.0% of the kernel weight (Makkar et al. 1997). Therefore, one might conservatively estimate that the average oil yield per hectare of jatropha on marginal, non-irrigated land may be 0.5 tons times 61.3% times 53.0%, or 0.162 tons of oil per hectare. Jatropha oil contains about 90% of the energy density of petroleum diesel, so the energy equivalent yield is reduced by an additional 10% to 0.146 tons per hectare. While this is substantially less than the oil production of soybeans, rapeseed, or palm oil, the potential for production on marginal land may give jatropha a distinct advantage over the higher-producing oil crops.

A commercial venture was announced in June 2007 between BP and D1 Oils to develop jatropha biodiesel (BP 2007). The companies announced that they will invest $160 million with the stated intent of becoming the largest jatropha biodiesel producer in the world. The venture intends to produce volumes of up to 2 million tons of biodiesel per year.

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).

While jatropha has intriguing potential, a number of research challenges remain. Because of the toxicity issues, the potential for detoxification should be studied (Heller 1996). Furthermore, a systematic study of the factors influencing oil yields should be undertaken, because higher yields are probably needed before jatropha can contribute significantly to world distillate supplies (see Calculation 1). Finally, it may be worthwhile to study the potential for jatropha varieties that thrive in more temperate climates, as jatropha is presently limited to tropical climates.

7.1.2 Calculations

Calculation 1: Consider the potential for displacing 10% of the world’s distillate demand of 1.1 billion tons per year with jatropha oil. To replace 10% of the world’s distillate demand will require 110 million tons of distillate to be replaced. Jatropha, with about 10% less energy than petroleum distillates, will require 122 million tons on a gross replacement basis (i.e., not considering energy inputs). On marginal, non-irrigated land the yields will likely be at the bottom of the range of observed yields. At a yield of 0.146 tons per hectare (the lower range of yields), this would require 836 million hectares, which is greater than the 700 million hectares currently occupied by permanent crops.



An estimated 2 billion hectares of land is considered to be degraded and perhaps suitable for jatropha cultivation (Oldeman et al. 1991). There are also an estimated 1.66 billion hectares in Africa that are deemed suitable for jatropha production (Parsons 2005). This could provide a valuable cash crop for African farmers. But, until an estimate is made of the energy inputs required to process and distribute the jatropha-derived fuel on a widespread basis – especially on marginal land – the real potential for adding to the world’s net distillate supply is unknown.

7.2 References

Augustus, G.S., Jayabalan, M., & Seiler, G.J. (2002). Evaluation and bioinduction of energy components of Jatropha curcas. Biomass and Bioenergy., 23, 161-164.

BP. (2007). BP and D1 Oils Form Joint Venture to Develop Jatropha Biodiesel Feedstock. Retrieved July 14, 2007 from the BP corporate web site: http://www.bp.com/genericarticle.do?categoryId=2012968&contentId=7034453

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

Francis, G., Edinger, R. & Becker, K. (2005). A concept for simultaneous wasteland reclamation, fuel production, and socio-economic development in degraded areas in India: Need, potential and perspectives of Jatropha plantations Natural Resources Forum 29 (1), 12–24.

Heller, J. (1996). Physic nut Jatropha Curcas L. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops. Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (Gartersleben) and International Plant Genetic Resources Institute: Rome Vol. 1.

Makkar H., Becker K., Sporer F., & Wink M. (1997). Studies on the nutritive potential and toxic constituents of different provenances of Jatropha curcas. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 45, 3152–3157.

Oldeman, L. R.,. Hakkeling R. T. A., & Sombroek, W. G. (1991). World Map of the Status of Human-induced Soil Degradation: An explanatory note. Wageningen, International Soil Reference and Information Centre, Nairobi, United Nations Environment Programme.

Parsons, K. (2005). Jatropha in Africa: Fighting the Desert & Creating Wealth. EcoWorld. Retrieved July 14, 2007, from http://www.ecoworld.com/home/articles2.cfm?tid=367

Pramanik, K. (2003). Properties and use of Jatropha curcas oil and diesel fuel blends in compression ignition engine. Renewable Energy Journal, 28, (2), 239–248.

Sirisomboon, P., Kitchaiya, P., Pholpho, T., & Mahuttanyavanitch, W. (2007). Physical and mechanical properties of Jatropha curcas L. fruits, nuts and kernels, Biosystems Engineering, 97, (2), 201-207.

Wood, P. (2005). Out of Africa: Could Jatropha vegetable oil be Europe’s biodiesel feedstock?, Refocus, 6 (4), 40-44.

February 14, 2009 Posted by | jatropha | 11 Comments

A Footnote on Jatropha

Following my recent post on the energy situation in India, I received an e-mail from Sreenivas Ghatty, the founder and CEO of Tree Oils India. Sreenivas told me that I was correct that the jatropha situation in India has been overstated, and wanted to provide some facts on where jatropha stands. Sreenivas is involved in trying to establish a jatropha industry, and he wrote in part:

There are no large scale commercial plantations in India as of now. The plantation activity has commenced here and there during the last few years, but, it may take few more years before the commercial yields start. We have been focusing on research to improve yields and expect meaningful outcomes this year. Based on the results, we intend to expand plantation on our own and through contract farming in the next few years.

Jatropha is not panacea to feedstock problems. It has limitations and would fail under certain agro climatic conditions. There are other species such as Pongamia, Moringa, Madhuca and Neem which could perform well where Jatropha could fail. If right species and right plantation material are selected and the right agronomic practices are adopted, the results might be profitable, viable and sustainable to all the stakeholders.

He also provided some pictures from a jatropha plantation which were very interesting:



Jatropha Plantation in India (Photos courtesy of Tree Oils India Limited.)

Sreenivas also pointed me to an interview he had given on his biofuel activities:

The World is Green

His cites peak oil as a reason for becoming interested in this area:

Why BioFuels?

With peak oil approaching faster, alternative energy sources need to be developed. Biofuels are the cheapest and the most sustainable alternative and they can be produced and consumed locally by many people in small quantities. Alongside, there are also benefits to economy and environment.

And he doesn’t make outrageous claims regarding the costs:

What could be the price of fuel using these feed stocks?

Under the circumstances, it cannot be less than $2 per litre.

The bottom line is that jatropha and other non-edible oil plantations are being established, but 1). It’s going to take time; 2). The fuel that is produced may all be consumed locally.

April 13, 2008 Posted by | India, jatropha | Comments Off on A Footnote on Jatropha

A Footnote on Jatropha

Following my recent post on the energy situation in India, I received an e-mail from Sreenivas Ghatty, the founder and CEO of Tree Oils India. Sreenivas told me that I was correct that the jatropha situation in India has been overstated, and wanted to provide some facts on where jatropha stands. Sreenivas is involved in trying to establish a jatropha industry, and he wrote in part:

There are no large scale commercial plantations in India as of now. The plantation activity has commenced here and there during the last few years, but, it may take few more years before the commercial yields start. We have been focusing on research to improve yields and expect meaningful outcomes this year. Based on the results, we intend to expand plantation on our own and through contract farming in the next few years.

Jatropha is not panacea to feedstock problems. It has limitations and would fail under certain agro climatic conditions. There are other species such as Pongamia, Moringa, Madhuca and Neem which could perform well where Jatropha could fail. If right species and right plantation material are selected and the right agronomic practices are adopted, the results might be profitable, viable and sustainable to all the stakeholders.

He also provided some pictures from a jatropha plantation which were very interesting:



Jatropha Plantation in India (Photos courtesy of Tree Oils India Limited.)

Sreenivas also pointed me to an interview he had given on his biofuel activities:

The World is Green

His cites peak oil as a reason for becoming interested in this area:

Why BioFuels?

With peak oil approaching faster, alternative energy sources need to be developed. Biofuels are the cheapest and the most sustainable alternative and they can be produced and consumed locally by many people in small quantities. Alongside, there are also benefits to economy and environment.

And he doesn’t make outrageous claims regarding the costs:

What could be the price of fuel using these feed stocks?

Under the circumstances, it cannot be less than $2 per litre.

The bottom line is that jatropha and other non-edible oil plantations are being established, but 1). It’s going to take time; 2). The fuel that is produced may all be consumed locally.

April 13, 2008 Posted by | India, jatropha | 9 Comments

A Footnote on Jatropha

Following my recent post on the energy situation in India, I received an e-mail from Sreenivas Ghatty, the founder and CEO of Tree Oils India. Sreenivas told me that I was correct that the jatropha situation in India has been overstated, and wanted to provide some facts on where jatropha stands. Sreenivas is involved in trying to establish a jatropha industry, and he wrote in part:

There are no large scale commercial plantations in India as of now. The plantation activity has commenced here and there during the last few years, but, it may take few more years before the commercial yields start. We have been focusing on research to improve yields and expect meaningful outcomes this year. Based on the results, we intend to expand plantation on our own and through contract farming in the next few years.

Jatropha is not panacea to feedstock problems. It has limitations and would fail under certain agro climatic conditions. There are other species such as Pongamia, Moringa, Madhuca and Neem which could perform well where Jatropha could fail. If right species and right plantation material are selected and the right agronomic practices are adopted, the results might be profitable, viable and sustainable to all the stakeholders.

He also provided some pictures from a jatropha plantation which were very interesting:



Jatropha Plantation in India (Photos courtesy of Tree Oils India Limited.)

Sreenivas also pointed me to an interview he had given on his biofuel activities:

The World is Green

His cites peak oil as a reason for becoming interested in this area:

Why BioFuels?

With peak oil approaching faster, alternative energy sources need to be developed. Biofuels are the cheapest and the most sustainable alternative and they can be produced and consumed locally by many people in small quantities. Alongside, there are also benefits to economy and environment.

And he doesn’t make outrageous claims regarding the costs:

What could be the price of fuel using these feed stocks?

Under the circumstances, it cannot be less than $2 per litre.

The bottom line is that jatropha and other non-edible oil plantations are being established, but 1). It’s going to take time; 2). The fuel that is produced may all be consumed locally.

April 13, 2008 Posted by | India, jatropha | 9 Comments

The Diesel Tree

Naturally, something like a “diesel tree” is going to catch my attention. (The scientific name for the tree, as best as I can ascertain, is Copaifera langsdorfii, and is native to South America). I have been intrigued by this plant since I first heard about it, but haven’t run across a wealth of information. Thanks to Bob Rohantensky for bringing the following story out of Australia to my attention:

Qld farmers invest in diesel-producing trees

Farmers in North Queensland are doing their bit to be environmentally friendly by investing in a tree that produces diesel.

Over 20,000 trees have been sold to farmers in the tropics by the man who introduced the diesel tree from Brazil.

The tree produces an oil that can be extracted, filtered and used to power vehicles and farm machinery.

It is estimated a one-hectare crop could produce enough fuel for an average-sized family farm.

That’s promising if true. Of course questions are going to abound. Here are some of the preemptive answers from the article:

Mr Jubow says one hectare can produce around 12,000 litres of fuel per year.

“Last year we sold around about 20,000 of these trees. This year we’ll sell probably similar figures, but we could sell more except that we can’t get enough seed out of Brazil,” he said.

He says the trees need a lot of water to grow.

So, there’s the yield (at least one man’s opinion of yield) and the fact that they take a lot of water. So, not a good option for areas that don’t receive a lot of rainfall.

“There is a world-wide database on plant species that have been known to become pests. This plant is not on that list.”

For reference, Australia has placed jatropha on its invasive species list.

He says farmers who want to grow the trees need to know what they are doing.

“It is a very difficult tree to grow from the point of view of a nurseryman like myself – it is not something where an amateur could just grab a handful of seeds and go and grow them,” he said.

“It is not that simple. They are a very difficult seed to germinate.”

So the average person is unlikely to grow and produce their own diesel. Of course the average person doesn’t do this now, so that’s not necessarily a problem.

So, what do you do when the tree has reached the end of its life?

“Not only that, when the tree reaches its use-by date, you’ve got plantation-grown timber which is a very high-grade timber that is suitable for cabinet-making. It is a very ornamental timber.

“You are still keeping it out of the CO2 system by harvesting the timber and milling it and putting it into high-quality furniture.

That all sounds quite interesting. I wonder what the range of the tree is? The biggest disadvantage, though, is that it requires the kind of long-range energy planning that society has been so poor at:

“If I’m lucky enough to live that long enough – I’m 64 now – it is going to take about 15 to 20 years before they are big enough to harvest the oil so that I can use them in a vehicle,” he said.

We can’t even plan 5 years ahead, so it is going to take some real long-term thinkers with a lot of patience to get this idea going.

What are some other options? I think soybean, rapeseed, and palm oil are all out because of land usage issues, and competition with food. What is needed is a high oil producing crop that can be grown on marginal land. Of course that’s what they say about jatropha.

Unfortunately, jatropha seems to have been exaggerated. When I went to India, everyone had heard of it, but nobody knew where any was actually being grown. So there has been a nagging concern in that back of my mind that some other plants mentioned as potential options – Chinese tallow, for instance – may also have had their potential exaggerated. I want to know what’s likely, not some best case scenario.

April 3, 2008 Posted by | biodiesel, jatropha, renewable diesel | 184 Comments

Condensed Summary of India


My Host Kapil in the Back

Overall Impressions of India

Here is a condensed summary of my overall impressions of my recent trip to India. The trip was business, but I got to see a lot of country. For a full blow by blow, see my trip reports at my travel blog: India Part I and India Part II.

When I was in high school, the Men at Work song “Land Down Under” was one of my favorite songs. One line speaks of Bombay, which to a farm kid from Oklahoma was the most exotic sounding destination in the world. For me, it was always one of these mystical places like Timbuktu. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined then that someday I would be walking the streets of Bombay (although the name has now been returned to the original Mumbai).

The Poverty

The poverty in India is just stunning. We don’t have anything to compare it to in the West. The people that would be considered very poor in the West have it far better than the poor in India. They are literally starving to death. I once asked what happens if someone has a medical emergency in the slums. “If they have money, they live. If not, they die.”

I think in the West we just tune it out when we see it on TV. But you can’t tune it out when you drive by mile after mile after mile of people living essentially in garbage dumps. I think we treat our unwanted pets in the West with more concern than we have for a starving 2-year-old half way around the world. I was frequently asked what I was thinking about, and once I replied “What it would be like to have everyone in India experience a little of America, and everyone in America come see this.”


A Familiar Site in Bombay

The Traffic

It really isn’t accurate to call it traffic. It is more appropriate to say that chaos reigns on the roads. It’s just a free-for-all out there. I would never recommend that a Westerner rent a car and attempt to drive. You will spend all of your time in a state of confusion, and you will hold up traffic while you try to figure out what to do. The constant honking (in lieu of signaling) was unnerving. For me, Hell would be having to be a cab driver in Bombay for all eternity.


Sitting in an Auto Rickshaw

The roads are shared by people, bikes, motorbikes, auto-rickshaws, and cars. I frequently observed traffic going the wrong direction, and it was quite normal to have someone turn directly across your path. We had drivers who took us from place to place, and they would pass people on blind curves and hills, and sometimes they even passed someone in the act of passing someone else. I don’t think we have a proper frame of reference in the West for the “traffic” in India; especially in the big cities.

The People

The population density is something else. I once wondered aloud just how many people I had seen on this trip. Kapil, the guy I was traveling with, said “Probably a good fraction of all the people you have ever seen in your life.” That is not an exaggeration. We traveled around the country, and with very few exceptions there were people lining the streets everywhere. Several times I would observe a crowd and wonder what was going on, but there was nothing going on. It was just a crowd. But it looked like a constant stream coming out of a major sporting event.

Despite the crowded conditions, I only saw violence once – when a man tried to drag another out of a car after a wreck. The people seem to cope quite well. Crime doesn’t seem to be nearly the problem you might expect in a city that size.

But with that many people comes a great deal of garbage. There was trash everywhere, and most of the time you could smell rotting garbage. One night we stayed well north of the city, but every once in a while my room would fill up with a garbage smell. I presumed the wind had shifted from Bombay.

Travel

It takes forever to get anywhere. You look at a place, and think “It’s only 100 miles.” 3 hours later, you still aren’t there. We spent 20 hours on the road over the course of 4 days. They don’t have rest stops and such with facilities that I could see. But the people I was traveling with never needed them. We would spend 7 hours in the car and never stop for a bathroom break. Needless to say, I limited my water intake on the trip, as I found that bathrooms were treated as a precious commodity. On a couple of occasions when I was in a meeting, I asked for the restroom and found someone standing outside of it, and a sign that said “VIPs and guests only.”

I traveled by train as well. It isn’t for everyone. If you like hot, sweaty bodies packed in like sardines (and that’s in 1st Class), then go for it. The auto-rickshaw was an interesting concept. The fuel efficiency on those things must be outrageous. They are run by a small motorcycle engine, and they sound just like a motorcycle.

Food

During the week in India, I had meat twice. The total I had was about 3 ounces. I would have guessed that I would be constantly starving, but the food is very filling, and very good. I haven’t had vegetarian like that in the West. They have a carbohydrate (usually a flat bread), a vegetable, and a protein. Rice is always part of the meal. This is one thing that I will take back with me: I plan to incorporate some of these meals into my normal diet.

Energy

I will make a separate post on the energy scene in India. I had some very interesting energy discussions while we were there, and toured a sugarcane ethanol factory. India has great potential for producing renewable energy, but with a population over 1 billion, they are unlikely to be able to export that energy in the long-term.

I asked everyone about jatropha. It was funny, because everyone had heard of it, but nobody knew where you could find it. What I was told is that the fertile land is all being used, and marginal land where one might grow jatropha has no infrastructure. Jatropha also takes a few years to mature, so that is an additional complication. My impression is that claims of jatropha in India have been wildly exaggerated.

“Hi, I’m Robert. From Dehli.”

I like to joke around, so this became one of my favorite lines when someone looked at me strangely, or I did something that perhaps was not quite expected. “It’s OK, I’m from Dehli.”

Overall, the trip was a real eye-opener for me. I mean, sure, I knew of these things, but at least for me actually seeing them first hand really sears the memory into my brain.

March 20, 2008 Posted by | ethanol, jatropha | 24 Comments