We introduce Jatropha curcas. This is a species of flowering plant in the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae, that is native to the American tropics, most likely Mexico and Central America. It is cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions around the world, becoming naturalized in some areas.
It is a poisonous, semi-evergreen shrub or small tree, reaching a height of 6 m. It is resistant to a high degree of aridity, allowing it to be grown in deserts.
The seeds contain 27-40% oil that can be processed to produce a high-quality biodiesel fuel, usable in a standard diesel engine.
Cultivation is uncomplicated because Jatropha curcas grows in tropical and subtropical regions. The plant can grow in wastelands and grows on almost any terrain, even on gravelly, sandy and saline soils. It can thrive in poor and stony soils, although new research suggests that the plant’s ability to adapt to these poor soils is not as extensive as had been previously stated. Complete germination is achieved within 9 days.
Jatropha curcas thrives on a mere 250 mm (10 in) of rain a year, and only during its first two years does it need to be watered in the closing days of the dry season. Ploughing and planting are not needed regularly, as this shrub has a life expectancy of approximately forty years.
While Jatropha curcas starts yielding from 9-12 months time, the best yields are obtained only after 2–3 years time. The seed production is around 3.5 tons per hectare (seed production ranges from about 0.4 t/ha in the first year to over 5 t/ha after 3 years). If planted in hedges, the reported productivity of Jatropha is from 0.8 to 1.0 kg of seed per meter of live fence.
When jatropha seeds are crushed, the resulting jatropha oil can be processed to produce a high-quality biofuel or biodiesel that can be used in a standard diesel car or further processed into jet fuel, while the residue (press cake) can also be used as biomass feedstock to power electricity plants, used as fertilizer (it contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), or as animal fodder. The cake can also be used as feed in digesters and gasifiers to produce biogas.
In 2007 Goldman Sachs cited Jatropha curcas as one of the best candidates for future biodiesel production.
In 2008 researchers at Daimler Chrysler Research explored the use of jatropha oil for automotive use, concluding that although jatropha oil as fuel “has not yet reached optimal quality…it already fulfills the EU norm for biodiesel quality”.
Three Mercedes cars powered by Jatropha diesel have already put some 30,000 kilometres behind them.
Aviation fuels may be more widely replaced by biofuels such as jatropha oil than fuels for other forms of transportation. There are fewer planes than cars or trucks and far fewer jet fueling stations to convert than gas stations.
If you go to www.youtube.com, a search will reveal the December 30, 2008, Air New Zealand first successful test flight from Auckland with a Boeing 747 running one of its four Rolls-Royce engines on a 50:50 blend of jatropha oil and jet A-1 fuel. In the same press release, Air New Zealand announced plans to use the new fuel for 10% of its needs by 2013. At the time of this test, jatropha oil was much cheaper than crude oil.
Since then, several other airlines have tested flights on different jatropha fuel mixes.
The author of this article has been with a team experimented with running a diesel generator on jatropha fuel. This was to see about getting a possible cheap source of fuel for the use of many in Nigeria and beyond. The function of a Professional Energy Manager, especially in Nigeria, goes beyond just saving energy use, but also to source for cheaper sources of fuel.