Friday, February 22, 2008

Will Jatropha Revolutionize the Bio-Fuel Industry?

With crude oil prices poised to reach the one hundred US dollar – per – barrel mark. Will a Jatropha based bio-fuel industry be a more eco-friendly and socially responsible alternative to food crops now currently used?

By: Vanessa Uy

With the controversy surrounding the use of staple food crops as a source of bio-fuels increasingly becoming a focus of a "media frenzy” for some time now. There might be a more Earth-friendly alternative without the unforeseen ecological impacts of genetically modified crops and the current “mono culture” based practice of intensified cultivation of a few species of staple food crops.

Jatropha, scientific name Jatropha podagrica also known as the physic nut, coral plant, gout plant, Buddha belly plant, is a plant which may hold such promise. Due to the plant’s ability to tolerate arid climates, fast growing and it’s usefulness for a variety of products, Jatropha can yield up to two tons of bio-diesel fuel per year per hectare. Put it another way, Jatropha can yield about 1,000 barrels of oil per year per square mile.

Basing on such relatively scant yield figures, Jatropha like other bio-fuels in general, is not yet an economically viable replacement to crude oil as a tradable commodity. But the plant’s other redeeming qualities like minimal requirement for irrigation and chemical fertilizers. And also a large field of Jatropha has the ability to stabilize or even reverse the effects of desertification means that growing the plant as a source of bio-fuel will not only be very eco-friendly but it will also not be in competition with staple food crops. And the plant is also a source of other products after the bio-fuel is extracted. Moreover, even diesel fuel from crude oil will cause far less pollution if bio-diesel additives are added. Not to mention the resulting revenue savings to those countries, which now don’t have to buy imported crude oil but instead develop their local agricultural industry by growing their own bio-fuel.

Currently, large - scale cultivation of Jatropha for bio-fuel purposes is still limited to some parts of India. But the plant’s hardy nature of thriving on land that’s too arid for staple food crops makes the large scale cultivation of Jatropha for the bio-fuel industry and other uses makes it a very eco-friendly enterprise. The practice is also socially responsible since Jatropha won’t be in competition with staple food crops. Thus staple food crop prices would remain stable. And Jatropha’s potential to reverse the effects of desertification could be tried in China where the effects of desertification is costing the country over 54 billion yuan annually. And a Jatropha bio-fuel industry in China could also help alleviate China’s chronic fuel shortage.

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