Posted: Sat Jul 28, 2007 3:35 pm Post subject: alternative plant source for biodiesel?
According to Wikipedia’s article on bio-diesel, jatropha beans produce 1,590 kg of oil per hectare, rather than 2,700 kg as suggested by the British company who are driving this iniative. Regardless, this is a decent amount and well above corn and other touted bio-diesel sources... plus it appears to be a hardy plant. Does this sound like a decent alternative to poppies for Afghanistan? The only downside is Bob Geldof approves of it and that concerns me.
The jatropha bush seems an unlikely prize in the hunt for alternative energy, being an ugly, fast-growing and poisonous weed. Hitherto, its use to humanity has principally been as a remedy for constipation. Very soon, however, it may be powering your car.
Almost overnight, the unloved Jatropha curcushas become an agricultural and economic celebrity, with the discovery that it may be the ideal biofuel crop, an alternative to fossil fuels for a world dangerously dependent on oil supplies and deeply alarmed by the effects of global warming.
The hardy jatropha, resilient to pests and resistant to drought, produces seeds with up to 40 per cent oil content. When the seeds are crushed, the resulting jatropha oil can be burnt in a standard diesel car, while the residue can also be processed into biomass to power electricity plants.
As the search for alternative energy sources gathers pace and urgency, the jatropha has provoked something like a gold rush. Last week BP announced that it was investing almost £32 million in a jatropha joint venture with the British biofuels company D1 Oils.
Even Bob Geldof has stamped his cachet on jatropha, by becoming a special adviser to Helius Energy, a British company developing the use of jatropha as an alternative to fossil fuels. Lex Worrall, its chief executive, says: “Every hectare can produce 2.7 tonnes of oil and about 4 tonnes of biomass. Every 8,000 hectares of the plant can run a 1.5 megawatt station, enough to power 2,500 homes.”
Now you have done it. Someone is about to tell you about how hemp is the miracle crop that can grow 4 times a year, and feed clothe and fuel the entire planet, all on just one acre of marginal land that no one is using. I get tired of those guys and their pie in the sky ideas.
Seriously though, if we get serious about biodiesel, it sounds like algae is the crop of the future, and the oil palm rules the present. Hemp, canola, poppy, none of those crops produce anything near what an acre of palm trees can do. Although the numbers for algae will probably come down somewhat as people actually try it, it seems like it has great potential.
Everything I've read about algae seems to put it more in the "pie in the sky" category. Commercial production has yet to be achieved as they've yet to find a way to produce large enough quantities reliably.
Palm trees aren't all that easy to cultivate and require fairly specific conditions to grow commercial quantities of biomass suitable for biodiesel.
Jatropha is a poisonous and invasive weed. It's drought resistant and grows in conditions which would wipe out most other crops. In other words, no concerns about anyone stealing your crop to smoke it or make funky clothes out of it... and it might be harder to stop growing than to grow. I'm interested to see whether someone can make it commercially viable.
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