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Jatropha. The Future of Biofuel or All Hype?. Jatropha is a genus of about 175 plants. When people refer to Jatropha as a biofuel they are speaking of Jatropha curcas . It is a hardy, drought and pest-resistant plant. It produces seeds containing up to 40% oil. Botanical features:

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The Future of Biofuel or All Hype?

about the plant

Jatropha is a genus of about 175 plants. When people refer to Jatropha as a biofuel they are speaking of Jatropha curcas.

  • It is a hardy, drought and pest-resistant plant.
  • It produces seeds containing up to 40% oil.
  • Botanical features:
    • Large green to pale-green leaves
    • Flowering plant
    • Fruits are produced in winter or throughout the year depending on temperature and soil moisture.
    • Seeds become mature when the capsules change from green to yellow.
…About the plant
easy cultivation

Grows almost anywhere including wastelands, gravelly, sandy, and saline soils. It can thrive on even some of the poorest stony soil and will grow in crevices of rocks.

  • Complete germination is achieved within 9 days.
  • Survives and thrives on a mere 250 mm (10 inches) of rain a year.
  • Ploughing and planting are not needed regularly since the shrub will continue to grow for about forty years.
  • The plant responds negatively to organic fertilizers like manure during germination.
  • The use of pesticides are not necessary due the pesticidal, poisonous, and fungicidal properties of the plant.
  • Begins yielding after 9-12 months. However, effective yield comes only after 2-3 years.
Easy Cultivation
where does it grow

Jatropha is native to Central America but it has become naturalized India, Africa, North America and parts of Asia

Where Does it Grow?
focus on india

New uses for land in India: According to the Ministry of Rural Development, only 173 million of 306 million hectares of land are used for cultivation, while the remaining land is either eroded farm land or non-arable wasteland. Such previously unused land can be used for Jatropha.

  • Government Focus: India's Planning Commission recommended a national mission on biofuel, specifically Jatropha:
    • Stage 1 - 500,000 hectares of jatropha grown on government land across the country. The fuel would be produced at the village level by local governing bodies.
    • Stage 2 - India's central government would plant a total of 12 million hectares of the plant and privatizing the production of jatropha biodiesel
Focus on India
why focus on jatropha

The Perfect Storm:

    • High oil prices – force a search of possible long-term alternatives to run automobiles.
    • Climate change – motivates people to seek green energy sources
    • Food prices – necessitate alternative energy (specifically biofuel sources) that do not tradeoff with food producing crops.
  • Recent Attention:
    • International speculation – in December of 2007, Goldman Sachs identified Jatropha as a potentially strong source of biofuel for the future.
    • Growing investment in India, China and Africa – has made this created a lot of hype around the possible fuel source.
    • European companies looking for new fuel sources – are considering a turn to Jatropha.
Why Focus on Jatropha?
why the paper

“Right now, ad-hoc research is being done by different agencies…but it doesn't add up, because they each do their own thing.”

  • - Nature, October 2007
Why the paper….
our question navigating uncertainties

A good deal of uncertainties exist when it comes to Jatropha as a biofuel source. These uncertainties can be grouped into two categories:

  • Production and Refinery Uncertainties –
  • - Lack of domestication of the plant.
  • - What to do with the biproduct of the plant.
  • - Varying estimates of oil yield from the seed.
  • - Oil production based on where the crop is grown.
  • - How much carbon does production cost?
  • 2. Economic and Political Viability Uncertainties
  • - Viability of and differences with large scale production.
  • - Whether government subsidy is necessary (like in India)
  • - Food production tradeoff?
Our Question – Navigating Uncertainties

Varying Output Figures

One of the greatest

Uncertainties with

Jatropha is how much oil

is produced per acre of

plants. The existing

numbers on this are

often suspect and vary

widely. For instance,

India’s planning

commission thinks it

would be about 1,300

liters of oil per hectare.

Pushpito Ghosh, director

of the Central Salt and

Marine Chemicals

Research Institute, says

its half that.

These discrepancies are

due in some part to who

is doing the research. A

good deal of these

estimates come from

sources who are invested

in Jatropha. This paper

is a more leveled study.


Cost of production

One of the greatest concerns

when it comes to biofuels is

the cost per barrel of fuel.

Recent studies have shown

that ethanol, for instance, has

huge costs in the refining

stages which ultimately

render it inefficient without

large government subsidies.

A central question for this

paper is whether the cost to

produce Jatropha makes it

inefficient without subsidy or

whether the fuel source could

exist in the free market

without government support.