Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jatropha Seeds - a promising biofuel?

I'm asking my brother Steve, the expert gardener to experiment with some jatropha seeds that I found on Amazon. They're pretty cheap - $4, which is a buck less than the seeds for the incredibly hot pepper called naga jolokia seeds I asked him grow. Amazon refers to jatropha as "diesel fuel plants." That's probably hyperbolic. But the stuff does have potential I think.

I became interested in jatropha because the Houston newspapers reported today that a Continental Airlines test flight earlier this year using biofuel intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions achieved fuel efficiency slightly higher than traditional jet fuel. That's huge.

During the 90-minute flight Jan. 7, test pilots put a Boeing 737-800 through various maneuvers, powered by one CFM International CFM56TB engine using 100 percent traditional fuel and one using a 50-50 mix of traditional and biofuel. The flight did not carry passengers and the airline did not set a timetable for using the fuel on regular flights.

Fuel efficiency from the 50-50 mix was about 1.1 percent higher, the airline said.

The biofuel blend included components derived from algae and jatropha rather than food crops. Greenhouse gas emissions for production and consumption of the biofuel tested are estimated at 60 percent to 80 percent less than for traditional jet fuel

This is at least the second report of an airline using biofuels based from Jatropha, Air New Zealand just reported similar results with similar biofuels.

"A second generation biofuel, jatropha is grown on land that doesn't compete with food. It requires almost no care and very little water. Another major benefit of jatropha is that, due to its ability to take hold in harsh wastelands, it can be used to help stop erosion in these areas and reclaim them for agricultural production." -- Gas 2.0

So, this jatropha plant makes a lot of fuel, grows in wastelands, and needs no care or water. Hmm, is it time to buy stock in jatropha companies?


little rocker said...

Biofuels have less emissions for certain studied gases, but look at other compounds such as Nitrogen oxide compounds, it doesn't stack up as well. Also, particulate size of the emissions is more troublesome. see:

clew said...

Straight biology makes me very dubious that jatropha needs little water -- photosynthesis is required for a plant to make hydrocarbons, and water is required for photosynthesis. It seems more likely that jatropha is good at scavenging its own water and usually doesn't need *irrigation* -- which means it can starve entire ecosystems, like eucalyptus and tamarisk do.

Here's a newspaper account saying results are at best mixed: