Is America missing a huge opportunity in agriculture development while it ignores the boom in jatropha in Asia, South America, India and Africa?  Last June BP announced it was funding the development of D1 Oils which has 172,000 hectares in jatropha at the announcement date with the investment to be used for more seed stock development and adding additional acreage.  The venture is designed to meet the seed demand for the anticipated addition of 1,000,000 hectares in four years and 300,000 more added annually starting in the fifth year.

Just last week the Chinese announced that they would harvest 13,500 hectares of jatropha that they expect will yield 15,000 tons of refined biodiesel.  This acreage is in Guizhou and tells of the acreage and the added acreage to be in mountainous area not suitable for food crops.  The leading electrical company Zhongshui has been at this project since 2004 has its new refinery scheduled to start up at the end of December 2007 for a 20,000-ton capacity.  The provinces of Guizhou, Yunnan and Sichuan plan to have 1.7 hectares in production in 10 years.

The napkin numbers are 1 hectare equals about 2.5 acres, the ton quotes are metric tones or about 2,205 pounds.  A gallon of diesel is about 7 pounds or a liter is 0.7 kilograms. Thus Zhongshui Energy Development Companies harvest next year on the 13,500 acres would be equivalent to 1.1 tons per hectare about 3500 liters per hectare.  That comes to (3500 liters* .22 = 770 gal. Then 770/2.5 = )308 gal/acre. Not so impressive until one remembers this is land unused for food crops and that U.S. corn at 150 bushels/acre yields about 375 gallons of ethanol from top farmland whose energy per gallon is 1/3 less.  With U.S. diesel today at over $2.50 a gallon and ethanol well under $2.00 one can assess this in economic terms.

American private money is in China.  America’s Becco Biofuel is coming with $2 billion spread over 200,000 hectares aimed at 400,000 tons of biodisel or double the yields at Zhongshui.

In India they expect nearly three tons of raw oil per hectare.  The Centre for Jatropha Promotion and Biodiesel has devised a program that they expect to get to 600 gallons of oil per acre. The Chinese say they have varieties planted that can yield up to 62% oil compared to generic species that generally yields 40% oil.  There is a lot going on.

So where is the U.S. news about jatropha?  There is a little jatropha started in Florida, where the University of Florida has planted seedlings expected to yield 600 to 1,000 gallons of raw oil per acre.  This is very different from what the Chinese and Indian folks are expecting.  In the effort to enroll university researchers the seedlings were donated and two other firms say they have species that can yield much more.

This all leaves us with the question, is America missing the jatropha opportunity?  It seems so, but the market is expanding at an incredible rate and the best plant scientists, genetic engineers and seed developers are in the U.S.  The worry becomes that the base stocks will become unavailable for research as more patents for genes are issued which could leave the world without the highest state of the art.  The U.S. agricultural land grant universities need a bit of a wakeup call, not only for potential production here, but to again make an enormous difference worldwide, this time in fuel production.  America’s contribution to this could add nearly a full order of magnitude to worldwide production and incomes to people.

 Here is a D1 Oils link, well worth a look.  And then Reuters has a page with more basic D1 information and photos of a processor.


11 Comments so far

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  10. Ken on May 11, 2011 4:31 AM

    Cool Blog!!!

    I agree with your comments! Here are two great example of how local people can get more than biofuels from their plantation.

    Furthermore utilisation of the byproducts of biofuel production can also bring industry to some of the poorest parts of India

    This next clip shows Jatropha in India… monoculture and underutilisation of the plant because the view is biofuelcentric not holistic!

  11. alcachofa ampolletas on May 28, 2011 12:02 AM

    “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death”

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