Jatropha Q and A
Jatropha curcas – relevance and advantages as a bio-oil plant
Jatropha curcas is a tropical oilseed plant. It occurs in most countries on the earth with tropical climate. It is not browsed by animals and is adaptable and can survive poor soils and droughts. Its oil has been proven to be a highly suitable feedstock for production of bio-diesel and bio-aviation-spirit, among others through tests by Daimler AG and Lufthansa AG.
Jatropha has survived setbacks and continues to be relevant because of its positive characteristics. There is increasing consensus - after a decade of intensive debate - that biofuel derived from vegetable oils will continue to be important to reach the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by fossil fuel consumption. However, there is need to ensure sustainability of the vegetable oil produced. Their increased production should also not endanger food security. With its adaptable nature, jatropha is among the few oilseed plants that can be viable on degraded and low-value lands. This is why it has attracted sustained interest.In short, the compelling positives of jatropha include:
- High quality of the oil and its suitability as biofuel feedstock.
- Non-browsability to free ranging cattle – important in many tropical countries.
- Environmental sustainability – the improved cultivars have potential to be competitive under sub-optimal agricultural conditions. These are the type of lands that would be available for biofuel production. On the other hand, jatropha cultivation is mostly not competitive with other crops on good agricultural land.
- Social sustainability – jatropha is comparatively easy to cultivate and can be cultivated fully manually on a small scale or the cultivation can be mechanised. At present it is especially suited for small scale cultivation because of the manual harvesting. The harvested fruits can be easily processed, dried and the seeds stored.
- Easily processible seeds – the seeds can be easily processed using small-scale processing machines, but lends itself equally to processing in large industrial units
- Good market for the product (bio-oil) and by-products (seed cake or seed kernel meal, shell pellets etc) locally and the international markets
Yield increase: standard seeds are now available that have been proven to have 3-6 times higher yields compared to wild seeds that were used for raising plantations 10 years back.
Agronomic knowledge has increased considerably over the last 10 years.
Genetic and eco-physiological knowledge has also increased laying the foundation for further developments in the jatropha sector.
The greenhouse gas (GHG) and net energy balance of a fuel are important criteria for ascertaining its environmental sustainability.
Research at the university of Bonn has shown that use of jatropha oil showed GHG emission reduction potential of up to 82% compared to fossil fuel. Other published literature has supported this finding. This compares very well with the GHG savings of other vegetable oil-derived fuels, where the value is in the range of 55% savings (due to more intensive cultivation methods and chemical supplements). Jatropha oil thus has equivalent or better chemical properties as biofuel feedstock, but higher ecological benefits because of lower GHG emissions compared to conventional vegetable oils.
The proposed strengthening of the GHG balances of biofuels in Europe and many other countries will increase the demand for bio-oils such as that from jatropha.
A study from Mexico where more intensive methods are used for agriculture, a net energy ratio of jatropha biodiesel production was found to be 2.88 indicating a strongly positive energy balance of the jatropha system. This means that the jatropha system produces 2.88 times more energy compared to total energy inputs. The energy balance is still more positive in small-scale farming systems.
As mentioned earlier, jatropha cultivation is competitive under sub-optimal cultivation conditions compared to other conventional crops. The yields on such lands from multilocation trials with elite seeds show a yield range of 2 - 3.5 tonnes of dry seeds per ha per year on maturity of the plantations.
Jatropha cultivation using elite seeds on sub-optimal land needs to produce 1.75 to 2.75 tonnes of dry seeds per ha per year from the 4th year onwards under routine plantation conditions to be attractive to small farmers (based on experience-figures in Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Kenya, applicable to other countries also). This calculation is based on the current, low market prices of jatropha seeds in these countries.
In conventional jatropha culture, where whole seeds with shell are crushed to produce oil, seed cake and oil are the products. Every 3.5kg of seeds produce 1 kg of oil and 2.5kg seed cake. The seed cake is an excellent fertilizer and soil conditioner and has good demand from farmers.
The new non-poisonous jatropha varieties (the plants are still not browsed by animals) presents more possibilities. In addition to bio-oil, it can generate kernel meal that can replace imported soybean meal as animal feed ingredient and shell pellets that can replace wood-charcoal as cooking or small-industrial fuel.
Products & Services
“Lessons from the past experiences should guide us in making jatropha plantations successful in future.”
JATROPOWER Bio-Trading Pvt Ltd,
Prof. J. Oliver,
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Coimbatore – 641011, India
Dr. George Francis
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Dr. J. Oliver
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