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.


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

8 thoughts on “Jatropha in NYT”

  1. There is a British-based company called D1 Oils that has built its busness model completely around Jatropha-derived biodiesel. It is cultivating Jatropha plantations in the Phillipines, Indonesia and India, and has a Biodiesel refinery under construction.

    It is listed on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM, so you can buy stock in it, if you want. Public listing also requires them to provide regular updates on the company’s progress.

  2. Yes, Robert, but Mali already has a lot of Jatropha planted as fences and hedgerows. I think this is the right way to go on bio-diesel as it minimizes the use of otherwise productive land limits erosion due to cultivation and limits the use of water and fertilizer thus raising eroei.

    Another species that should be looked into is the Chinese tallow tree (Triadica sebifera, a/k/a Florida aspen or Popcorn tree). It is the second or third most productive vegetable-oil-bearing seed crop in the world, after oil palm and certain algae.

    Jatropha is said to yield oil at about 1900 l/ha, Chinese Tallow about 4700, and oil palm about 5500

  3. Jatropha! Finally.
    It is no dangerous. The Aussies just want to keep out invasice species.
    Estimated yields vary widely, from 100 lieters per ha to 12,000 liters per ha.
    China planting a 1 million hectare farm in Indonesia. This one farm could supply two days US oil consumption, if it works.
    Jatropha just now being bred for yield. Corn used to be the size of your pinky, now the size of your foot.
    What will the future hold for jatropha?
    Just another reason why we face no energy crisis. We are way too inventive/
    We face a leadership problem. not an energy problem.
    Fat Man: That is fascinating about Chinese tallow. Great crop tree, if true, and the seeds can be harvested easily.

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  5. “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.”

    This is how they try to get around the food for fuel criticism. But if we ever try to grow large amounts of fuel like this, the planting won’t be restricted to barren land. If the price is high enough, they’ll plant it where ever they can, driving up food prices even more.

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