Revisting the Jatropha Debate

Bio-diesel extracted from the Jatropha fruit is cost-efficient and useful

Published: Sep 28, 2013

Less than fi ve years ago, it was like a gold rush when states allocated nearly 1 million hectares of land in India for growing jatropha, which produces biodiesel. But most projects turned out to be slow starters. With crude prices rising and carbon emissions continuing, it’s time to give jatropha a second look.

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(This story appears in the 04 October, 2013 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Sharafat

    I would like to know whether any bio fuel plant (like jatropha) can we plant in gujarat (india) (particularly in north gujarat, sabarkantha).if yes than please send me the details.

    on Jun 7, 2014
  • Prasanta Kumar Das

    I would like to know whether any bio fuel company (from jatropha) is active or continue their project in india (particularly in north east india).if yes than please send me the details. Regard prasanta Assam,india

    on May 10, 2014
  • Dr.a.jagadeesh

    Agave is a versatile plant well suited for millions of hectares of wastelands in India. Agave-derived Renewable Fuels, Products and Chemicals Biofuels Ethanol(1st and 2nd generations),Biobutanol,biomethanol,biojet fiel,green gasoline,biooil,biocrude,biodiesel,biocoal,biochar,H2,syngas,biogas,torrefied pellets and briquettes, drop-in fuels,pyrolysis oil,and biochar. Bioproducts Agave syrup(kosher),Powder inulin,healthy sweetners,far substitute(ice cream),bioplastics,cellulose,paper,acids,CO,CO2,biopolymers,pressed boards,geotextiles,fibres,phenols,adhesives,wax,antifreeze,film(food wrap),fertilisers,insulating foam and panes,gel,pectin,non-wooven material9disposable diapers),mouldings,concrete additive,food additives,composite materials,esters,substitute for asbestos, in fiberglass,hydrocarbons,petrochemical precursors, activated coal,secondary metabolites,detergent,glycols,furfurans,resins,polyurethanes,epoxy,aromatics,olefins,paints and lubricants. Green electricity Pellets and briquettes,syn-gas,biooil,biocoal,biogas,biochar,H2 cells,ammonia,and pyrolysis oil. Co2 Sequestering in the soil Biochar. Agave: Competitive Advantages 1. Uses marginal dry-land (41% of the Earth’s surface). 2. Most Efficient use of soil, water and light. 3. Massive production. Year-round harvesting. 4. Very high yields. Very low inputs. 5. Lowest cost of production among energy crops. 6. Not a commodity, so prices are not volatile. 7. Very versatile: biofuels, bioproducts, chemicals. 8. 100 M tonnes established in the 5 continents 9. Enhanced varieties are ready. Mexico is pioneer in utilising every part of Agave for commercial exploitation. Will India follow? Ours is an agrarian economy. Let us utilise our resources fully so that there will be more rural employment and climate change abatement by providing CAM plants. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

    on Oct 1, 2013
  • Dr.a.jagadeesh

    It was mentioned in the article,\" A large chunk of 65 million hectares of waste land can be deployed for growing Jatropha,which yields for 20-25 Years\". Thanks to the wonders of nature,we have Care-free growth,regenerative plants like Agave and Opuntia which can be grown in these waste lands for Biofuel and Biogas for Power generation. Mexico is leader in this. Agave(Americana),Sisal Agave is a multiple use plant which has 10% fermentable sugars and rich in cellulose. The fibre is used in rope making and also for weaving clothes in Philippines under the trade name DIP-DRY. In Brazil a paper factory runs on sisal as input. A Steroid HECOGENIN is extracted from this plant leaves. Since on putrification,it produces methane gas, it can be cut and used as input in biogas plants. Also in Kenya and Lesotho dried pieces of Agave are mixed with concrete since it has fibres which act as binding. Biofuel can be produced from Agave. Oxford University study on agave-to-ethanol: http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content... “The sustainability of large-scale biofuel production has recently been called into question in view of mounting concerns over the associated impact on land and water resources. As the most predominant biofuel today, ethanol produced from food crops such as corn in the US has been frequently criticised. Ethanol derived from cellulosic feedstocks is likely to overcome some of these drawbacks, but the production technology is yet to be commercialised. Sugarcane ethanol is the most efficient option in the short term, but its success in Brazil is difficult to replicate elsewhere. Agaves are attracting attention as potential ethanol feedstocks because of their many favourable characteristics such as high productivities and sugar content and their ability to grow in naturally water-limited environments. Here, we present the first life cycle energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis for agave-derived ethanol. The results suggest that ethanol derived from agave is likely to be superior, or at least comparable, to that from corn, switchgrass and sugarcane in terms of energy and GHG balances, as well as in ethanol output and net GHG offset per unit land area. Our analysis highlights the promising opportunities for bioenergy production from agaves in arid or semi-arid regions with minimum pressure on food production and water resources. “[...] the emissions of agave-derived fuel are estimated to stand at around 35g of CO2 per megajoule from field-to-wheel, compared to the 85g/MJ emitted when making corn ethanol.” Dr Tan and his colleagues found this energy balance is five units to one. “This compares favourably to the highly efficient sugarcane, and to the less efficient corn as a source of biofuel. It also compares favourably to sugarcane-derived ethanol for its ability to offset greenhouse gas emissions, which we calculated at 7.5 tons of CO2e per hectare per year – taking into account the crop’s complete lifecycle” The main drawback for wider application of Biofuels is input. There was a big movement for biofuel from Jatropha in India but in reality not much has been achieved. Agave(Americana),Sisal Agave is a multiple use plant which has 10% fermentable sugars and rich in cellulose. The fibre is used in rope making and also for weaving clothes in Philippines under the trade name DIP-DRY. In Brazil a paper factory runs on sisal as input. A Steroid HECOGENIN is extracted from this plant leaves. Since on putrification,it produces methane gas, it can be cut and used as input in biogas plants. Also in Kenya and Lesotho dried pieces of Agave are mixed with concrete since it has fibres which act as binding. Here is an excellent analysis on Agave as a biofuel: Agave shows potential as biofuel feedstock, Checkbiotech, By Anna Austin, February 11, 2010: “Mounting interest in agave as a biofuel feedstock could jump-start the Mexican biofuels industry, according to agave expert Arturo Valez Jimenez. Agave thrives in Mexico and is traditionally used to produce liquors such as tequila. It has a rosette of thick fleshy leaves, each of which usually end in a sharp point with a spiny margin. Commonly mistaken for cacti, the agave plant is actually closely related to the lily and amaryllis families. The plants use water and soil more efficiently than any other plant or tree in the world, Arturo said. “This is a scientific fact—they don’t require watering or fertilizing and they can absorb carbon dioxide during the night,” he said. The plants annually produce up to 500 metric tons of biomass per hectare, he added. Agave fibers contain 65 percent to 78 percent cellulose, according to Jimenez. “With new technology, it is possible to breakdown over 90 percent of the cellulose and hemicellulose structures, which will increase ethanol and other liquid biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass drastically,” he said. “Mascoma is assessing such technology.” Another plant of great use is OPUNTIA for biogas production. The cultivation of nopal((OPUNTIA FICUS-INDICA), a type of cactus, is one of the most important in Mexico. According to Rodrigo Morales, Chilean engineer, Wayland biomass, installed on Mexican soil, “allows you to generate inexhaustible clean energy.” Through the production of biogas, it can serve as a raw material more efficiently, by example and by comparison with jatropha. Wayland Morales, head of Elqui Global Energy argues that “an acre of cactus produces 43 200 m3 of biogas or the equivalent in energy terms to 25,000 liters of diesel.” With the same land planted with jatropha, he says, it will produce 3,000 liters of biodiesel. Another of the peculiarities of the nopal is biogas which is the same molecule of natural gas, but its production does not require machines or devices of high complexity. Also, unlike natural gas, contains primarily methane (75%), carbon dioxide (24%) and other minor gases (1%), “so it has advantages from the technical point of view since it has the same capacity heat but is cleaner, “he says, and as sum datum its calorific value is 7,000 kcal/m3. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    on Sep 29, 2013
    • Seema Singh

      Dr Jagadeesh: Thank you again for posting from studies done elsewhere. Can you cite studies on these seeds done on Indian soil? It\'d be great to have some data collected over a few life cycles and under Indian conditions. What growers in this country need is local data to be able to incorporate the inputs in their field.

      on Sep 29, 2013
      • Dr.a.jagadeesh

        I had been advocating Biofuel from Agave and Opuntia besides Biogas for power production. Unfortunately in India, we are in most cases imitators but not innovators. First Box Type solar cooker was from India. But often we adopt western designs. Unless west recognizes, we don’t recognize. I submitted a research project on Biofuel from Agave and Biogas from Opuntia to Government of India. If any industrial houses/organisations are interested in promoting this in India I have collaboration with leaders in the field from Mexico,UK.US and Australia. Here is more important information: Agave\'s lower lignin content (down to 2.4%) and higher cellulose content (62%) makes it ideal for production of Biofuel. Agave can be intercropped with Opuntia(Prickly Pear) which will be used to generate biogas for renewable electricity generation. Biogas power generators from KW size to MW size are commercially available from Germany,China,Vietnam etc. The cost of production per Kwh with Opuntia can be as low as US$ 3.00 per million BTU. On an annual basis,one hectare of agave can yield upto ten times the ethanol one hectare of sugarcane in Brazil. Agave to Ethanol\'s CO2 e emissions are lower than sugarcane and corn. Water - footprint -- agave does not have any. Agave uses water,light and soil most efficiently amongst plants/trees on earth. Agave is packed with sugars, on an annual basis one hectare of agave yoelds upto 10 thousand gallons of ethanol(from its sap/juice) and 6500 gallons of cellulosic ethanol. No other plant in the World has such potential. I have a plan: We have SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONES (SEZ). Just like that we can start YOUTH ECONOMIC ZONES (YEZ). Wastelands can be given to youth on a lease basis(about 10 acres per youth) and 1o such youth can form a co-operative. They can cultivate fast growing multiple use plants like Agave and Opuntia. Power generation plants can be set up at local level. This way there will be decentralised power. This fits in Mahatma Gandhiji\'s Concept of AGRO INDUSTRIES utilising local resources and resourcefulness. Youth can be given short term training in Agricultural operations. This way we can provide employment to Youth besides bringing waste and vacant land under cultivation. What is more, large plantations of Agave and Opuntia lead to climate Stability as both are CAM plants. Crassulacean acid metabolism, also known as CAM photosynthesis, is a carbon fixation pathway that evolved in some plants as an adaptation to arid conditions. In a plant using full CAM, the stomata in the leaves remain shut during the day to reduce evapotranspiration, but open at night to collect carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is stored as the four-carbon acid malate, and then used during photosynthesis during the day. The pre-collected CO2 is concentrated around the enzyme RuBisCO, increasing photosynthetic efficiency. Developing countries like ours which have millions of hectares of waste lands can transform rural economy by going in for Agave and Opuntia plantations on a massive scale. As one Exonomist put it, IT IS NOT THE LACK OF RESOURCES BUT RESOURCEFULNESS THAT EXPLAINS WHY PEOPLE PERISH IN THE MIDST OF PLENTY. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

        on Sep 29, 2013
  • Dr.a.jagadeesh

    The author is not at all aware of the situation of Jatropha in India. It is almost a failure. Here is an interesting analysis on Jatropha in India. “The Indian experience The National, a newspaper published in Abu Dhabi in its May 11, 2009 issue, published an article titled; ‘Jatropha seeds yield little hope for India’s oil dream.’ The article referred to a project that was embarked upon by Professor R. R. Shah in 2005, when he sent a team to Navsari Agricultural University’s most parched and desolate strip of land, a farm in the Vyasa district of India’s northern state of Gujarat. The team was instructed to set up a model farm for jatropha, the hardy shrub with oil-rich seeds that were then emerging as one of the most promising alternatives to crude oil. At the time, jatropha’s promise seemed boundless. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the president of the University, even used his presidential address that year to extol the virtues of jatropha. “Jatropha can survive in the most arid wastelands”, the story went. And so vast barren swathes of India could be put to productive use. It is inedible so it would not cause a backlash by competing with food crops, it said. The government, according to the publication announced a scheme to plant 13 million hectares, enough to generate nearly 500,000 barrels of jatropha oil per day. But as Prof Shah’s project in Vyasa nears its end this month, the dean of agribusiness at Navsari is sceptical. “There is no yield,” he says. “The literature said that with dry land, after four years’ growth, you can get a yield of 1kg per plant. For us, it is hardly 200g per plant.” The consensus of the team of experts after evaluating India’s jatropa projects from 22 agribusiness colleges across the country was that, indeed, jatropha would grow on wasteland, but would give no appreciable yield. “This is not a wasteland crop. It needs fertiliser, water and good management. Yes, it grows on wasteland, but it doesn’t give you any yield,” the publication quotes Dr Suman Jha a researcher on Prof. Shah’s team as saying. If this observation is anything to go by, then the persistent argument that jatropha could grow on unproductive agriculture land should be looked at again. This argument also challenges the assertion that investors are not a threat to smallholder farmers,whose productive agriculture land stands to be annexed by powerful multinationals for the cultivation of biofuel crops. Non of the projects cited in The National story, including D1 Oils’, a London-listed biofuels company, which has planted about 257,000 hectares of jatropha, mainly in India was successful. The company moved far too early. The report indicated that D1 is also having some nasty surprises on yield. It said in 2006 that it aimed to produce 2.7 tonnes of oil per hectare from areas planted with its new E1 variety, and 1.7 tonnes of oil from normal seed. That is equivalent to about 8 tonnes and 5 tonnes of seed per hectare respectively, or 3.5kg and 2kg a plant. According to the report, Pradip Bhar, who runs the company’s D1 Williamson Magor Bio Fuel joint venture in India’s north east, admits he has yet to achieve a fraction of that. “Hitting 500g is the challenge,” he says. “Mortality is quite high. But if we can reach 500g in two years’ time, after that the bush will continue to grow. Our expectation is that after the fourth year we will hit 1kg. The 1.5kg mark we haven’t touched as yet.” Those are the results from the fertile state of Assam, According to the report. The yields in other, dryer states such as Jharkand and Orissa, he says, are much worse. Mr Bhar intends to hold the area under cultivation steady at about 132,000 hectares this year. As his plantations account for more than half of D1 Oils’ Jatropha crop, the company’s goal of planting 1 million hectares by 2011 looks like a tough one. He is concentrating instead on ensuring his small contract farmers continue tending it for the two or three years needed before it becomes profitable. This challenge is one of the reasons why Prof Shah doubts the 500,000 hectares of jatropha the Indian government estimates has been planted so far. Only last month, he unsettled an annual meeting of the universities researching jatropha and India’s National Oilseeds and Vegetable Oil Development Board by reporting that only 5,000 hectares was actually under plantation in Gujarat, half the official estimate, the report added. The Indian experience can provide sufficient evidence for a careful, and thorough, cost-benefit analysis of Ghana’s jatropha dream, before the bubble most probably bursts. From May 27 to 28, an international conference on jatropha in Ghana would be considering the benefits of the crop to the global economy. Hopefully, the conference would not hype the benefits of jatropha and neglect the possible pitfalls. An objective consideration of all the possibilities, including that of possible failure, as the Indian experience has shown so as to minimize any collateral damage in the long term is necessary for the move forward. The companies investing in jatropha and other non-food crops for the production of biofuels including the ones from India, have lots of lessons to learn from India’s example, so as not to repeat the mistake”. - See more at: http://www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2009/05/23/update-any-lessons-for-ghana-in-india’s-jatropha-failure/#sthash.oPBf4MQg.dpuf On the other hand I had been advocating cultivating care-free growth plants like Agave and Opuntia in Waste lands. Both are CAM Plants. Biofuel and Biogas and subsequent power can be generated from both of these plants. Both are CAM Plants. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India.

    on Sep 29, 2013
    • Seema Singh

      Dr Jagadeesh: Thank for you posting your comment, although from an old article. What I am talking about here is first hand experience of some field as well as lab researchers who\'ve been at it for more than 12 years. And I am aware of the Jatropha situation in India and which is why I wrote this. Incidentally, this is not a regular article, but in the form of an infographics which talks about most of the relevant stuff in Jatropha cultivation. In fact, the idea of writing two columns of myths and myths-busted is precisely this: To spell out why Jatropha cultivation has not yielded the results it was supposed to yield. The first time I wrote about the Jatropha biodiesel (from the same lab) was in 2004. http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/biodiesel-breakthrough-in-india. Back then these folks said that commercial interests are running ahead of plant science and they were right. Now they say they have the full life cycle data of this pant and a good handle on how this plant can be useful in ensuring energy security. Other seeds may have been used here and there but is there a body of work from any university/industry/lab which can go back 8-10 years and say with confidence how the plants work in the field?

      on Sep 29, 2013
      • Dr.a.jagadeesh

        There is no point in saying that Jatropha is being cultivated in India since long. Nobody denies this. My criticism is that Jatropha needs watering and a seasonal crop. It takes minimum 5 years to yield the seeds. Because of Hype many people grabbed thousands of acres of wastelands for lease. How many of them are actually growing Jatropha is a million Dollar question. People want to grow in Millions of hectares of Jatropha crop in Ghana,Medagaskar,Tanzania,Kenya etc. But how much area is covered by Jatropha? I have First hand information of Jatropha in Madagascar. In India (AP),a Jatropha biodiesel extraction plant was set up but was not a success as there was no regular supply of Jatropha seeds. Elsewhere there is criticism on Jatropha as it also requires watering like normal plants though in lesser quantity: As of 2011 skepticism about the \"miracle\" properties of Jatropha has been voiced. For example: \"The idea that jatropha can be grown on marginal land is a red herring\", according to Harry Stourton, business development director of UK-based Sun Biofuels, which cultivates Jatropha in Mozambique and Tanzania. \"It does grow on marginal land, but if you use marginal land you\'ll get marginal yields,\" he said. An August 2010 article warned about the actual utility and potential dangers of reliance on Jatropha in Kenya. Major concerns included its invasiveness, which could disrupt local biodiversity, as well as damage to water catchment areas. Jatropha curcas is lauded as being sustainable, and that its production would not compete with food production, but the jatropha plant needs water like every other crop to grow. This could create competition for water between the jatropha and other edible food crops. In fact, jatropha requires five times more water per unit of energy than sugarcane and corn. 1. Reuters: Biofuel jatropha falls from wonder-crop pedestal, 21-1-2011 2. Friends of the Earth Europe: Biofuel \'wonder-crop\' jatropha failing to deliver, 21-01-2011 3. \"Biodiesel wonder plant could spell doom for Kenya\". naturekenya.org. Retrieved 2011-03-22. 4. Friends of the Earth kicks against Jatropha production in Africa, Ghana Business News, Friday, May 29, 2009, 5. Phil McKenna (June 9, 2009). \"All Washed Up for Jatropha? The draught-resistant \"dream\" biofuel is also a water hog\".Technology Review. Retrieved 2011-10-11. In Summary I am not against growing Jatropha but the cost benefit analysis need to be carried out with respect to other options like Agave and Opuntia as far as growing in waste lands is concerned.Both Agave and Opuntia are regenerative plants. As such input is available round the year if planted in different seasons. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

        on Sep 29, 2013
      • Dr.a.jagadeesh

        You write: \"Other seeds may have been used here and there but is there a body of work from any university/industry/lab which can go back 8-10 years and say with confidence how the plants work in the field?\" Agave is used for fencing to prevent cattle and humans entering the field since time immemorial in South India as well as in Gujarat and other states. In our Dry fields( AP ) we had thick bushy Agave as border crop in 60s itself. As such adoption of Agave and Opuntia to Indian conditions is natural.You find Opuntia plants in many waste lands in India. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India.

        on Sep 30, 2013
  • Abhijeet Verma

    In India Karanja(pongamia) is preferred over jatropha. Can you please advise the effects on soil that it has over pongamia cultivation (both pros

    on Sep 28, 2013
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