The worldwide effort to find a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to today’s fossil fuel dominated energy supply, has already resulted in a substantial and rapidly growing demand for biofuels especially he Jatropha plant.

Locally used for the treatment of toothaches and dental related problems, the Jatropha plant can be very fatal to man if ingested, but very friendly to diesel engines.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 and has been tested successfully as fuel for simple diesel engine. The oil from Jatrophacurcas is mainly converted into biodiesel for use in diesel engines. With an annual nut yield ranging from 0.5 to 12 tons, the kernels consist of 60 percent; this can be transformed into biodiesel fuel through esterification.

Due to its vast benefits, several developing nations have already begun to focus on cultivating Jatropha at a very large scale. According to Muys: ‘Some of these countries regard developing commercial Jatropha crop plantations as so promising that they envisage for themselves a future “OPEC nation” status as a biofuel exporter. Such objectives differ per individual pioneer country and include a desire to produce a cash crop with a high stable price – unlike coffee and cocoa, to become independent of oil imports, or to achieve a (more) positive import-export balance.’ In West Africa, for instance, Senegal is aiming at becoming one of the continent’s leaders in biofuel production. To this end, Senegal intends to plant 800 million Jatropha trees on 321,000 hectares of marginal lands before the end of 2008.

A special issue which the plant can on contribute to is; Jatropha oil can help alleviate poverty in poor countries, both by generating income and increasing the overall efficiency of rural and agricultural processes. The availability of ‘cost-free’ local plant oil in this respect also serves as an effective rural development tool that encourages electrification at rural village level. Such a basic community owned power plant comprises a diesel-generator set fuelled by Jatropha oil that generates electricity supplied to a locally built and maintained grid. And, as many studies on poverty alleviation have shown, the availability of electricity gives people the opportunity to do some additional work during evening and night hours and allows children to complete their homework for school.

The development of Jatrophainto a high-yielding and efficient new biofuel source is still at a relatively early stage. Small-scale production has commenced in a limited number of countries including Mozambique, Tanzania and India and the first results have already been evaluated. ‘So far progress on Jatropha was achieved by a careful step-by-step process approach’, says FACT Foundation Founder Prof. KeesDaeyOuwens. ‘Such care is required from an R&D perspective as well as the need to learn from experiences.’ He says that one of the key short to medium term research objectives is to search for superior species aimed at higher overall yield levels. This will be achieved through systematic seed selection from different regions and supported by a scientific seed-breeding programme. A second key area of attention is to refine tree propagation techniques for specific climates and a wide variety of environmental conditions.



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