Does anybody know much about jatropha oil and the plant it's made from?

The plant it is made from as far as I can tell is grown in dry places and requires little water or nutrients. It also grows quickly. Since most biofuels require the use of plants usually grown for food I thought this was one of the better alternatives. The plant yields more than four times as much fuel per hectare as soybean, and more than ten times that of corn. A hectare of jatropha produces 1,892 liters of fuel. The Southwest is getting drier and we can't plant anything else there so what about jatropha. Africa is another place to grow it along with Australia, Mexico, and the Middle East.

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  • 1 decade ago
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    About Jatropha Plant



    Jatropha curcus is a drought-resistant perennial, growing well in marginal/poor soil. It is easy to establish, grows relatively quickly and lives, producing seeds for 50 years.

    Jatropha the wonder plant produces seeds with an oil content of 37%. The oil can be combusted as fuel without being refined. It burns with clear smoke-free flame, tested successfully as fuel for simple diesel engine. The by-products are press cake a good organic fertilizer, oil contains also insecticide.

    It is found to be growing in many parts of the country, rugged in nature and can survive with minimum inputs and easy to propagate.

    Medically it is used for diseases like cancer, piles, snakebite, paralysis, dropsy etc.

    Jatropha grows wild in many areas of India and even thrives on infertile soil. A good crop can be obtained with little effort. Depending on soil quality and rainfall, oil can be extracted from the jatropha nuts after two to five years. The annual nut yield ranges from 0.5 to 12 tons. The kernels consist of oil to about 60 percent; this can be transformed into biodiesel fuel through esterification.

    Family: Euphorbiaceae Synonyms: Curcas purgans Medic. Vernacular/common names: English- physic nut, purging nut; Hindi - Ratanjyot Jangli erandi; Malayalam - Katamanak; Tamil - Kattamanakku; Telugu - Pepalam; Kannada - Kadaharalu; Gujarathi - Jepal; Sanskrit - Kanana randa.

    Distribution and habitat

    It is still uncertain where the centre of origin is, but it is believed to be Mexico and Central America. It has been introduced to Africa and Asia and is now culti-vated world-wide. This highly drought-resistant spe-cies is adapted to arid and semi-arid conditions. The current distribution shows that introduction has been most successful in the drier regions of the tropics with annual rainfall of 300-1000 mm. It occurs mainly at lower altitudes (0-500 m) in areas with average an-nual temperatures well above 20°C but can grow at higher altitudes and tolerates slight frost. It grows on well-drained soils with good aeration and is well adapted to marginal soils with low nutrient content.

    Botanical Features

    It is a small tree or shrub with smooth gray bark, which exudes a whitish colored, watery, latex when cut. Normally, it grows between three and five meters in height, but can attain a height of up to eight or ten meters under favourable conditions.


    It has large green to pale-green leaves, alternate to sub-opposite, three-to five-lobed with a spiral phyllotaxis.


    The petiole length ranges between 6-23 mm. The inflorescence is formed in the leaf axil. Flowers are formed terminally, individually, with female flowers usually slightly larger and occurs in the hot seasons. In conditions where continuous growth occurs, an unbalance of pistillate or staminate flower production results in a higher number of female flowers.


    Fruits are produced in winter when the shrub is leafless, or it may produce several crops during the year if soil moisture is good and temperatures are sufficiently high. Each inflorescence yields a bunch of approximately 10 or more ovoid fruits. A three, bi-valved cocci is formed after the seeds mature and the fleshy exocarp dries.


    The seeds become mature when the capsule changes from green to yellow, after two to four months.

    Flowering and fruiting habit

    The trees are deciduous, shedding the leaves in the dry season. Flowering occurs during the wet season and two flowering peaks are often seen. In permanently hu-mid regions, flowering occurs throughout the year. The seeds mature about three months after flowering. Early growth is fast and with good rainfall conditions nursery plants may bear fruits after the first rainy season, direct sown plants after the second rainy season. The flowers are pollinated by insects especially honey bees.

    Ecological Requirements

    Jatropha curcas grows almost anywhere , even on gravelly, sandy and saline soils. It can thrive on the poorest stony soil. It can grow even in the crevices of rocks. The leaves shed during the winter months form mulch around the base of the plant. The organic matter from shed leaves enhance earth-worm activity in the soil around the root-zone of the plants, which improves the fertility of the soil.

    Regarding climate, Jatropha curcas is found in the tropics and subtropics and likes heat, although it does well even in lower temperatures and can withstand a light frost. Its water requirement is extremely low and it can stand long periods of drought by shedding most of its leaves to reduce transpiration loss. Jatropha is also suitable for preventing soil erosion and shifting of sand dunes.

    Biophysical limits

    Altitude: 0-500 m, Mean annual temperature: 20-28 deg. C, Mean annual rainfall: 300-1000 mm or more.

    Soil type: Grows on well-drained soils with good aeration and is well adapted to marginal soils with low nutrient content. On heavy soils, root formation is reduced. Jatropha is a highly adaptable species, but its strength as a crop comes from its ability to grow on very poor and dry sites.

    Power Is the Key: Namiba's Ambitions to Diversify Its Economic Base from Dependence on Mining and Agriculture Will Depend on Its Ability to Increase Its Power Supply. Neil Ford Reports on the Latest Projects That Will Help This Southern African Country Do Just That.

    by Neil Ford

    During its 16 years of independent existence, Namibia has relied heavily on just two sectors to power its economy: mining and agriculture. The fortunes of the latter have fluctuated along with changes in commodity prices for copper, diamonds, gold, lead, uranium and zinc, but mining is likely to continue as the country's main source of foreign exchange for a long time to come.


    The agricultural sector is the biggest source of employment, although even the ongoing land reforms are unlikely to greatly bolster the sector's prospects. Yet the government is attempting to break this duopoly by promoting the country's energy resources.

    The South West Africa People's Organisation (Swapo) government seems to be thinking laterally in its efforts to create a far more broadly based economy. If the economy is to be taken to the next level and GDP pushed far above the current level of $2,370 per capita, growth can come from many sources: industry, manufacturing, IT and tourism, but almost all sectors rely on plentiful energy resources. Tourist hotels require electricity for air conditioning and heating water, and IT businesses and manufacturers need reliable power supplies.


    While the benefits of long term planning have helped to push the government towards an energy-focused strategy, there is no doubt that good fortune has also played a major role. The discovery of the Kudu offshore gas field will provide plenty of feedstock for power generation. Irish firm Tullow Oil and Gas is already developing the field to feed an 800MW power plant near Oranjemund.

    The plant will triple domestic generating capacity, ending electricity shortages and provide plenty of spare capacity for new industries to emerge. In addition, the plant will be an excellent source of export revenues in its own right. South African power company Eskom has agreed to purchase electricity from the facility for distribution across South Africa and other markets within the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) could also be targeted.

    However, Namibian power utility NamPower has now revealed plans for a second gas fired plant at Walvis Bay. The company has issued a tender for the construction of a 400MW plant at Walvis Bay, which will also be used to generate electricity for the domestic and export markets.

    Given the government's efforts to turn the port of Walvis Bay into a major entrepot for the entire region, it also likely that the new power plant could be used to persuade processing and manufacturing companies to set up operations in and around the port area.

    Road and rail links between the port and the rest of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are being improved and this could enable new investors to source raw materials over a wide area and export their products across the SADC, as well as further afield via the port.

    A third new power plant, a 500MW hydro scheme, is scheduled for development at Baynes, near the Angolan border--although environmental problems have held up construction to date.

    Taken together, all of these projects will revolutionise the Namibian power sector and have the potential to accelerate the domestic economy. Power rationing continues to be a problem across the country but just 200MW of new capacity would be enough to satisfy domestic consumption.

    Yet the SADC region is projected to have a shortfall of electricity supply within two years, so the new plants should have no trouble in securing export deals.

    Cornerstone of SAPP?

    The Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP) is still based on long-term supply contracts but short-term deals are becoming more common. Eskom is helping to fund the construction of greater transmission capacity within the SAPP and the system is likely to become more responsive to changes in supply and demand. By utilising both its gas and hydropower resources, Namibia is likely to turn itself into a cornerstone of the SAPP, a far cry from its current position as a net importer.

    Renewable power strategies

    To complement such large scale projects, the government plans to provide electricity in rural areas through a series of off-grid renewable energy ventures. The Namibia Renewable Energy Programme (Namrep) has been up and running since 2003 but the Ministry of Mines and Energy intends to increase its funding to promote solar energy in particular. Apart from heating water, it can be used in off-grid locations to provide domestic heating, electricity and photovoltaic water pumps.

    At the end of October, the minister of mines and energy, Erkki Nghimtina, unveiled the new renewables strategy, which will also include promoting the use of solar power in heating water. Nghimtina argued that using solar panels to heat water was cheaper than using grid electricity in Namibia, so all state owned organisations will be expected to install solar panels in the near future. It is hoped that the measure will reduce the state's total electricity bill by up to 50%.

    The other main area of renewable energy interest is biofuels. Government research has concluded that the shrub jatropha curcas, originally indigenous to South America but now grown throughout Africa, is the most economically and technically viable biofuel crop in the country. Oil can be taken from the nuts of the jatropha and processed into a motor fuel, which will be subject to the same standards as refined petroleum products.

    The government hopes that plantations can be cultivated in Kavango, Caprivi and other parts of the country, and has set a target of planting 63,000 hectares of jatropha by 2013. Jatropha is being favoured because it is suitable for cultivation in arid climates on poor quality soils. However, other crops, such as drought resistant maize could also be considered.

    The most likely use for the oil is in a blend with diesel to replace pure petrol or diesel. In addition, it can be used as a feedstock for small power plants with capacity of up to 1MW. It would take a scientist in an appropriate field to comment on the technical viability of the scheme but the concept of tying agriculture, industry and energy provision together in a single project appears very attractive.

    The widespread use of jatropha oil would cut Namibia's expensive oil import bill and create local employment.

    Other countries in Southern Africa also plan to develop biofuel industries but Namibia is the first to set such a high short-term target to date. However, South Africa leads the way in terms of total production. A bio-ethanol plant that will consume 375,000 tonnes of maize a year is currently under construction in the Free State province. It is expected to produce 158m litres of bio-ethanol a year.

    The Namibian government's decision to put energy policies at the heart of its economic diversification strategy seems a sound one. Initiatives to encourage IT industries and agricultural processing have their place but almost all must be driven by private sector investors and would grow with or without government support given an attractive investment environment and adequate infrastructure.

    Focusing on energy and transport links with other SADC nations should help to supply pre-requisites and enable Namibians to promote economic growth for themselves.


    'Debt for nature' deal to protect environment

    Botswana has signed a ground breaking debt deal with the US that should both reduce the national debt and promote environmental protection. Most African debt reduction or cancellations to date have been large scale deals, focusing on macro-economic stability and are generally only reached after several years of structural reforms. The US-Botswanan agreement is a much more modest affair but could be a template for future deals.

    The US government will provide $7m, which will reduce Botswanan debt by $8.3m, under the US Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA). In return, Botswana has agreed new environmental protection for parts of the country, including the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park.

    The US State Department has already reached 11 'debt for nature' agreements with Asian and Latin American governments, but this is the first such deal agreed in Africa. In addition, the previous agreements focused on the protection of tropical rainforests, whereas Botswana is host to very different types of tropical ecosystem.


    The two main protected areas are semi-forested wetlands that support large bird populations, as well as elephants, hippopotamuses and leopards.

    Apart from the impact on preserving rare ecosystems and increasingly rare flora and fauna, supporting the Okavango and Chobe will help to promote the tourist industry in the country as they are the two most important destinations for foreign visitors.

    The TFCA was passed as the centrepiece of Washington's policy of tying environmental protection with overseas aid. Under the act, the US State Department will invest more than $135m in 2007 on environmental protection around the world. Environmental campaign groups hope that the new funding will help to protect the fragile areas from the worst efforts of tourism, deforestation and overgrazing. The Okavango Delta fluctuates in size but in mid-2006 it was very confined, at just 52% of its maximum size of 20,000sq km. Rainfall has been lower than average over the past decade across Southern Africa and this is having a huge impact on the region, both in terms of agricultural development and environmental protection.

    Source(s): Magazine article by Neil Ford; African Business, No. 328, February 2007
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