Biofuels Revolution – Jatropha curcas

Jatropha curcas – commonly known as pinhao-manso (Brazil), barbados nut, physic nut, parvaranda, taua taua, tartago, saboo dam, or awla – belongs to the familia Euphorbiaceae and grows in many different kinds of soils and agro climatic conditions.

It grows wild especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia, and commercially in many parts of the world. The tree reaches a height of 8 m and is a tough, drought resistant plant that yields oil-rich seeds abundantly under good management. The can have up to 40% oil. The oil has a toxic substance, curcasin, which has a strong purging effect. Major fatty acid composition consists of oleic acid (37-60%), linoleic acid (19-40%), palmitic acid (11-17%), stearic acid (5-7%) and myristic acid (0-.06%).

JC has been used as drought-resistant plant in marginal areas to prevent erosion and live fence. The oil has been used for lighting purposes, as lacquer in soap production and, as a lubricant. JC is also used for medicinal purposes for its strong purging effect. In same African countries its leaves are used in treatment of malaria. The wood is used for fuel. Recently, Jatropha curcas oil reach seeds have been promoted as one of the most promissing feedstock for Biodiesel.

Jatropha curcas -JC- is a non-food crop that can grow in wastelands and it is said to yield more than four times as much fuel per hectare as soybean, and more than ten times that of corn. It could be one of the most promising sources of biodiesel. However, a lot of questions have been raised on the sustainability of Jatropha as an alternative energy source for many people around the world

Potentially, JC could become a very important feedstock for biofuel production. Brazil has alone 400 million hectares ready for agricultural use, and a portion of the available acreage could be used to plant and produce castor, jatropha, palm and sunflower oils. Jatropha oil can be burnt directly or can be converted to biodiesel. JC 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, JC needs fertilizers, good crop management and improved conditions which by its turn will provide higher oil yields. The idea that JC could be raised commercially without any care or good management is not true.

However, Jatropha has many advantages as a energy crop such as:

  • propagation is easy and it can survive long periods of drought, but don’t expect high yields under these conditions.
  • JC can be used in sustainable development programs to empower rural communities to produce their own fuel as well as soap. Manual harvesting and oil extraction can be done. Biodiesel and soap can be manufactured at local level. Easy to use manual oil press are readily available in less developed countries. However, correct training and orientation must be well provided to the communities and to small farmers.
  • Jatropha trees can produce oil seeds for up to fifty years and typically have their first harvest within two years of planting. I saw flowering as early as 8 months old plants.
  • Jatropha seeds can contain 20% to 40% of non-edible oil – jatropha trees have high yields which can be as high as 1.5 litres of oil per year. Chemical analysis s 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.
  • Its plantation can be taken up as a quick yielding plant even in adverse land situations viz. degraded and barren lands under forest and non-forest use, dry and drought prone areas, marginal lands, even on alkaline soils and as agro-forestry crops.
  • It grows as a tree up to the height of 3 – 8 mt. It is a good plantation for Ecorestoration in all types of wasteland.
  • Non-edible Jatropha oil is valuable multi-purpose crop which can be used as an alternative energy to replace fossil fuels. It can be used as a feedstock for making bio-diesel by a process called transesterification. The byproduct, glycerol, from this process can be used for making soaps. The seedcake left after oil extraction can be used for producing biogas and/or can be composted and used as a high grade nitrogen rich organic fertilizer.
  • Jatropha oil is sulfur free and burns cleanly without emitting carcinogenic smoke. Filtered 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.
  • Several aspects of jatropha, from the plantation to the bio-diesel production, can be exploited to build an environmentally-friendly eco-economy · Biodiesel is reported to be environmentally superior to petroleum diesel, for Jatropha biodiesel emits about two-thirds less in unburned hydrocarbons and almost half as much carbon monoxide and particulate matter as
    conventional diesel.
  • It contains no sulfur and so emits none. From the point of view of global warming, it is neutral in its net addition to greenhouse gasses because the carbon dioxide released in combustion was sequestered when growing the crop (this claim is questionable, since CO2 released would soon equate the CO2 sequestered by the plants after a relative short time, ed.).
  • Studies have optimistically concluded that while many vegetable oils are used to manufacture biodiesel, a given amount of land will produce much more oil from Jatropha than from the common alternatives (soybeans, cotton seed, rapeseed, sunflower, groundnuts).
  • The glycerin by-product of the trans-esterification process can be used to make a high quality soap, or it can be refined and sold at a range of prices,depending on its purity, to be used in an immense range of products,including cosmetics, toothpaste, embalming fluids, pipe joint cement, cough medicine, and tobacco (as a moistening agent).
  • 1 hectare plantation (2500 plants) will produce a reduction of 20 tons of CO2 per year for 40 years.
  • 2500 plants will produce around 10 tons of seeds which at 35% yield will produce up to 3500 liters of biodiesel which will result in 9.2 tons of CO2 offset every year for 40 years. However, these estimated data are for excellent crop management conditions and need to be validated.

  • 10 tons of seed will produce 6500 kg biomass from de-oiled seedcake which will be used for gasification to produce methane that will be harnessed for the captive consumption to replace highly-inefficient wood burners with gas fired burners and electricity. Thus, jatropha plantation has a much higher impact in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in than any other plantation
  • However, there are learning and serious home-work to be done when evaluating Jatropha as alternative energy feedstock.
  • Member of American Aquabiotech, Biofuels Revolution, Algae for Biofuels and MyBeloJardim Group