The biofuel from jatropha curcas is a promising source of future energy when the price of traditional fuel becomes exceedingly prohibitive or the deposit of fossil fuel under the earth is exhausted.
Jatropha Curcas is a species of tropical plant of the genus Jatropha that belongs to the family euphorbiaceae. Jatropha has about 176 species that have a life span of about 35 to 50 years. Jatropha curcas is also called psychic nut and “tuba-tuba” in the Philippines. It is a bush or small tree with large evergreen leaves and round fruits, and grows about 5 meters tall in maturity. Jatropha grows in Southeast Asia, India, Africa and the tropical regions of America.
The plant especially the fruit and the seeds are toxic. It contains chemicals such as lectin, saponin, phorbul and a trypsin inhibitor. However, Jatropha curcas can be used in traditional medicine, and in the manufacture of soap, pesticide and fertilizer. The fruit and the seeds can be used as feedstock to power energy plants. The dried shell can be used for combustion. Jatropha seed contains 18% protein, 8% moisture, 35% fat, 17% carbohydrates, 16% fiber and 6% ash.
The most promising use of Jatropha curcas is its potential as a source of biofuel. A test was made in Germany by Daimler Chrysler regarding the viability of Jatropha oil as fuel. Three Mercedes Benz cars were able to run 30,000 kilometers with Jatropha biodiesel. Jatropha oil has also been successfully tested in aircraft as a blend of traditional aviation fuel. On December 30, 2008, Air New Zealand’s Boeng 747 used Jet A-1 fuel with jatropha oil on a 50/50 blend in one of its four Rolls Royce engines. In 2009, Air New Zealand and Continental Airline also conducted a test flight on blend of traditional aviation and Jetropha oil. On April 2011 Mexico likewise did a test flight on its Interjet with a 70/30 blend on Airbus A320. On October 28, 2011, Air China 747-400 powered one of its engines with a mixture of 50/50 aviation and Jatropha oil during a one hour test flight. With the tests, Jatropha oil fulfills the EU norm for diesel quality that can run a standard diesel car. In 2007 Goldman Sachs cited Jatropha curcas as one of the best candidates for sources of future biofuel production.
Jatropha curcas is a hardy plant that can resist drought and adapt to any type of soil including the marginal one. It is even blessed to grow in the tropics where there is abundant rainfall all year long. Jatropha curcas can be planted as a main crop. It can also be grown as a hedge plant or as an intercrop of other plants such as fruit, coffee, corn, maize, sugar cane and vegetables.
A Jatropha curcas plantation can become productive after about four years. A hectare of Jatropha is estimated to yield 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms of nuts or 540 to 680 liters of oil. The productivity depends on the fertility of the soil. A marginal soil yields marginal harvest. A seed contains 27% to 40% oil or an average of 34.4%. Jatropha is seen as more profitable as fuel crop than other plants because it contains four times more oil than soya beans and ten times more oil than maize.
The viability of Jatropha oil as an alternative source of energy is dependent of its cost vis-a -vis the cost of traditional crude oil. A price higher than the traditional crude oil will not make it economically viable and motorists will just continue to use traditional fuel. In this case Jatropha oil is seen just as a future alternative fuel. People will use it only when the price of crude oil becomes excessively high or the earth’s fossil fuel deposit will substantially diminish.
A concern is raised by some sectors that the planting of Jatropha like other fuel plants may reduce the production of food crops as farmers change their traditional crops. This may result to food shortage and increase the price of food and aggravate the incidence of poverty. Some sectors say that they will not sacrifice food for fuel. Supporters for the propagation of Jatropha in commercial scale assure them that production of Jatropha oil will not adversely affect food production and prices of foods.