The Indian farmers discovered another high value use for the plant, the seeds have a very high oil content…
In 2003, Biodico was hired by the USTDA and USAID to undertake a feasibility study in India to help the government determine the potential of various feedstocks for biodiesel. The Indian government had, what was then, a very forward thinking requirement, crops intended for biofuel shouldn’t compete with crops grown for food. Many different possibilities such as neem and pongamia were examined, but jatropha seemed to offer the most potential. Varietals and growing operations were examined in different provinces and Biodico has kept relationships with the growers of some of India’s best varietals. The original plans in India called for 10,000 hectares of Jatropha plants for rural biodiesel projects, an area of land that is often cited in literature or used in proposals by various firms. The original reasoning has been largely lost, but if the distance that an oxcart can travel back and forth in one day to collect seeds is taken as the radius of a circle (with a processing plant in the middle), the area of that circle is 10,000 hectares.
The Indian government had, what was then, a very forward thinking requirement, crops intended for biofuel shouldn’t compete with crops grown for food.
Since that time, Biodico has worked on several feasibility studies globally to introduce the jatropha plant as a biofuel crop and to set up initial planting areas. The potential for jatropha is huge. It is insect resistant, drought resistant, and pest resistant. Drought resistant does not mean drought seeking though. Multiple irrigation types have been tested on the crop and it grows best with regular irrigation. Too often, overzealous developers have promised that the jatropha doesn’t need water to produce great oil yields and projects that could have been great have failed. Jatropha definitely does not need fertile agricultural land to grow well though and the nutrient requirement is minimal. The seeds can contain up to 50% oil and the yields can be 400 gallons per acre. It bears seeds and can be harvested multiple times per year. The jatropha plant can grow up to almost 30 feet high, but it can be pruned to a more manageable six foot harvesting height easily. The seeds generally grow where the incident sunlight is highest on the top third or so of the plant, so pruning does little to affect overall yields. The plant lives for roughly 75 years so there is no burden with annual replanting.
The seeds can contain up to 50% oil and the yields can be 400 gallons per acre.
The jatropha plant does have one considerable drawback though, it will not tolerate freezing weather. If the weather drops below freezing for more than a few days, the entire crop will die off. For the last eight years, Biodico has been working on a “cold weather” varietal of jatropha on city land in Santa Barbara, California. Santa Barbara usually has a couple of cold weather events a year that see the temperature dip below freezing for a night or two. The survivability has improved over the years, but it will be many years before jatropha is widely planted as a feedstock through much of the United States.