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Jatropha Curcas Linn (“Jatropha”) is a plant that produces seeds containing inedible lipid oil that can be used to produce fuel. Each seed produces 30% to 40% of its mass in oil. Jatropha can be grown in a range of difficult soil conditions, including arid and otherwise non-arable areas, leaving prime land available for food crops. The seeds are toxic to both humans and animals and are therefore not a food source. It grows wild, especially in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and commercially in many parts of the world.
Jatropha is used to produce the non-edible Jatropha oil for making candles and soap, and, more recently, is cultivated as a feedstock for producing Biofuels. Jatropha is one of a small number of dedicated Biofuel crops and is now considered as one of the most promising candidates for the sustainable production of Biofuels. Because it can grow on secondary soil types, it can be planted in areas where it will not compete for resources needed to grow food.
Potentially, Jatropha could become a very important feedstock for Biofuel production. Jatropha oil can be burnt directly or can be converted to Biodiesel or aviation Biofuel. Jatropha is of particular interest as it grows indigenously in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Although Jatropha can withstand marginal conditions, the result is marginal production. As any other crop, Jatropha needs fertilizers, good crop management and improved conditions, which in turn will provide higher seed production and oil yields. The idea that Jatropha could be raised commercially without any care or good management is a myth.
Jatropha has many advantages as an Biofuel crop:
- Propagation is easy and it can survive long periods of drought, but it will not produce high yields under these conditions.
- Jatropha can be used in sustainable development programs to empower rural communities. However, correct training and orientation must be provided to the communities and to small farmers.
- Jatropha bush-trees can produce oil seeds for up to fifty years and typically have their first harvest within three years of planting. It is not uncommon to observe flowering as early as 8 months after planting.
- Jatropha seeds can contain up to 40% of non-edible oil – Jatropha trees have high yields, which can be as high as 1.5 litres of oil per tree a year. Chemical analysis has indicated that Jatropha Biodiesel can comply with the current EU and US standards for Biodiesel.
- It can be grown in arid zones (20 cm rainfall), as well as in higher rainfall zones and even on the land with thin soil cover under a variety of agro-climatic conditions. Active intervention by way of pruning, clipping and nutrients supplements will be required to achieve commercial yields.
- Jatropha has a strong tap root system that goes deep to find moisture and nutrients, and therefore manages to grow on less fertile and badly eroded soil. The deep roots and leaf fall help to bring up and hold nutrients at the surface, gradually regenerating eroded topsoil. Jatropha requires relatively little fertilization, but like all living organisms, trees need the more care early in their life. After they are established, Jatropha bush-trees are a remarkably hardy plant species that can survive on natural rainfall only.
- It grows as a bush-tree up to a height of 3 – 8 m. It is a good plantation bush-tree for Eco-restoration in all types of wasteland.
- Non-edible Jatropha oil is valuable multi-purpose crop which can be used as an alternative energy source to fossil fuels. The seedcake left after oil extraction can be fed to an anaerobic digester to produce methane-rich BioGas for green power generation and/or can be composted and used as a high-grade nitrogen-rich organic matter or as feedstock to produce organic fertilizers..
- Jatropha oil is sulphur-free and burns cleanly without emitting carcinogenic smoke. Filtered, degummed Jatropha oil can also be used directly in many diesel vehicles with minor engine modifications. It can also be used in diesel generators as a diesel substitute for electrification.
- Yields four times as much Biofuel per hectare as soybean and ten times as much as corn.
- In the right conditions, a one hectare plantation can produce 2+ tons (2,000 litres) of Bio-Oil per year.
The thing that makes Jatropha sticks out as favorite feedstock for Biofuel; is because of its ability to be cultivated and supplied in a sustainable manner.
- The seeds are mildly toxic and they are not eaten by humans or animals, so are able to become a sustainable supply for Biofuels without affecting food supplies – a problem with some edible Biofuel sources such as corn, soybean, palm oil and sugarcane.
- The bush-tree can grow on land generally considered to be unsuitable for conventional food crops, ensuring that it does not need to compete with food crops for land or irrigation water. A number of myths have grown up around Jatropha as a Biofuel crop, suggesting that it is a hardy crop that can grow in very arid or marginal land and does not need much attention. The truth is that a well-established Jatropha plant can withstand drought and grow on marginal soils, but the yield it will provide depends on how much nutrients it receives, naturally or by fertilizer supplements, how well watered it becomes and whether it is prey to insects or diseases.
- Establishing a plantation of Jatropha bush-trees is labour intensive at certain times, requires considered knowledge of soil nutrition and conditioning, and is best done in conjunction with other complementary crops, in order to provide cross benefits such as natural pest deterrence and attracting pollinators. It is unlikely that the price of Jatropha seeds alone will be sufficient to provide a farmer with enough to live on and therefore supplemental sources of income will be necessary. Jatropha is a good supplemental crop, but if its cultivation has to be paid for entirely out of seed income, it is unlikely that Jatropha will be economic as a stand-alone crop.
As a second-generation feedstock of the non-food category, Jatropha has gathered recognition as a sustainable Biofuel with bright prospects. It appears to be an excellent alternative energy solution. For countries dependent on agriculture, but poor in fossil fuel resource levels, Jatropha oil can become not only an excellent source for domestic automotive-, aviation- fuel and electricity energy, but also a principal export commodity. As such, Jatropha cultivation contributes to the global supply of Biofuels and at the same time to the national economy in general.