Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jatropha Aims to be King of Biodiesel

The future of biodiesel may belong to algae, but the present belongs to palm oil. Palm has the highest yield for all oilseeds, but unfortunately palm requires intensive cultivation and leads to the destruction of rainforest habitat.

Jatropha is a shrub native to Central America that grows in dry harsh conditions, and requires very little cultivation. It thrives across the entire tropical swath of the planet, requiring only generally warm conditions to prosper. The Mexican government is beginning to promote jatropha for small farmers, perhaps hoping to eventually balance shortfalls in petroleum production with growth in bio-"crude".
Now it turns out the weed, jatropha, could be used to fuel jet planes and the Mexican government wants farmers to grow entire fields of it to turn into biodiesel.

Known locally as "pinon," jatropha is a hearty shrub that grows with no special care. Its oil-rich seeds are being eyed as an attractive feed stock for biofuel since the poisonous plant does not compete with food crops.

...Jatropha is native to Mexico and Central America but was likely transported to India and Africa in the 1500s by Portuguese sailors convinced it had medicinal uses.

Now India is planting the bush en masse, converting it into a green energy source used to power trains and buses with less pollution than crude oil. Mexico hopes to follow suit.

President Felipe Calderon signed an agreement with the president of Colombia in January to build a 14.5 million peso ($936,000) experimental biodiesel plant in southern Mexico with a production capacity of 12,000 liters (3,170 gallons) of biofuel a day.

Mexico passed a law last year to push developing biofuels that don't threaten food security and the agriculture ministry has since identified some 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of land with a high potential to produce jatropha. _Bioenergy
Both jatropha and pongamia have a lot of potential to replace palm oil, thereby saving a large portion of rainforest habitat. Eventually desert-grown algae may well replace the oilseed plants for biofuel production. That will take at least 30 years. In the meantime, jatropha is a very good bet for the tropics.



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