Jathropa as a Biofuel

In the sub-tropics and tropics, jatropha is a very promising biofuels feedstock. It is a wild, non-edible shrub that grows on barren land, and does not compete with food crop production. Its seeds contain large amounts of oil that can be processed into biodiesel, and used as a fuel for jet engines. Extra revenue can be generated from by-products in all stages of the production process.

Production of jatropha is already underway in India and China, as a way to source cheap local biofuels and increase rural development. BP invested heavily in this crop, and D1 Oils and BP started a £80 million project to cultivate jatropha on a commercial scale. In 2007, 200,000 hectares of land entered into production. China invested €253 million into building a biodiesel refinery for processing 34,000 hec-tares of jatropha feedstock.

Many European companies are investing heavily into small scale jatropha production in Africa. For example, Trans4mation Argi-tech, a UK-based company, recently bought 10,000 hectares in Nigeria, and CAMS Group bought 45,000 hectares for jatropha biofuels in Tanzania, in order to meet EU targets for biofuels blends in 2010.

Research into jatropha has focused on identifying high yield strains and genetic modification of jatropha crops to extend their range of distribution and increase their oil yields. In 2008, a cold-tolerant jatropha strain was identified, which may lead to large-scale jatropha production across the EU and US.

However, interest in jatropha has waned recently due to its high water footprint and lack of success in producing high oil yields from field trials. BP sold its stake in D1 oils in 2009 after a third backer for the company could not be found. Interest in the feedstock may increase following successful jet fuel test flights using fuels derived from jatropha feedstocks. Most companies in operation use multi feedstocks and produce other products either through biofuel production or from other core parts of their business.