Monday, March 30, 2009

Food + Fuel = Jatropha

Everyone keeps talking about the new biofuel. It’s not corn since we use so damn much of it in our food processing. The U.S. doesn’t have wonderful weather to grow sugarcane. Algal does have potential; however I’d place my beat on jatropha seeds. It is actually a thin tree with green nuggets that house the durable black seed.

It's hardy like mom's soup and resilient like flooring. It’s a promising source that can help to revive our green efforts simply because it has been in the “testing phase” for quite some time. (The U.S. is behind the 8 ball again!) India set aside 100 million acres for jatropha and expects the oil to account for 20% of its consumption by 2011 (hello, that is only 2 years from now). Australia, China, Brazil and Kenya have given it a “thumbs up” and even a Boeing 747 was successfully test-flown by Air New Zealand using a 50/50 blend of jet and jatropha fuel.

Farmers in Florida are also all smiles and surprised by the resistance and superiority of this little seed. The University of Florida has been working with local farmers since 2006 whereby 900,000 trees were planted, grown, tested and retested. Turns out that Florida of all places may yield up to 8 times as much oil compared to locations such as India and Africa. For my geek friends….that equals 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel per acre per year compared to 200 gallon for stock trees grown in the wild.

We are just getting started on the inputs. What about the outputs? The jatropha fuel is carbon friendly, too. The release of carbon dioxide is practically insignificant and the trees can capture four tons of carbon dioxide per acre. A double whammy! The buzz now – could this tree make growers eligible for carbon credits on the global market? I hope so because the U.S. already is an energy glutton.

Source: Tim Magazine and National Biodiesel Conference February 2009.

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