Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
DEAL: For $25 - Add A Second Phone Number To Your Smartphone for life! Use promo code SLASHDOT25. Also, Slashdot's Facebook page has a chat bot now. Message it for stories and more. Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! ×
Power Science

New Wonder Weed to Fuel Cars? 484

Hugh Pickens writes "Jatropha, an ugly, fast-growing and poisonous weed that has been used as a remedy for constipation, may someday power your car. The plant, resilient to pests and resistant to drought, produces seeds with up to 40 per cent oil content that when crushed can be burned in a diesel car while the residue can be processed into biomass for power plants. Although jatropha has been used for decades by farmers in Africa as a living fence because its smell and taste repel grazing animals, the New York Times reports that jatropha may replace biofuels like ethanol that require large amounts of water, fertilizer, and energy, making their environmental benefits limited. Jatropha requires no pesticides, little water other than rain and no fertilizer beyond the nutrient-rich seed cake left after oil is pressed from its nuts. Poor farmers living close to the equator are planting jatropha on millions of acres spurred on by big oil companies like British Petroleum that are investing in jatropha cultivation."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

New Wonder Weed to Fuel Cars?

Comments Filter:
  • Just use hemp. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lecithin ( 745575 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:35PM (#20542435)
    It is a very good biomass source, it grows just about everywhere.

    You don't get high from smoking industrial hemp.


    http://fuelandfiber.com/Hemp4NRG/Hemp4NRGRV3.htm [fuelandfiber.com]
    • by QMalcolm ( 1094433 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:39PM (#20542493)
      Surely you jest. Everyone knows hemp is a gateway fuel. Sure, filling up your car with a hemp once every week or so isn't going to do any serious damage. But then it becomes every week, then twice, three times, and pretty soon you need a heroin fuel injection every half hour to even get to the gas station, just to buy more.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Da3vid ( 926771 )

        no fertilizer beyond the nutrient-rich seed cake left after oil is pressed from its nuts
        You can't take oil from the plant, use the rest of the plant to grow more plants, take oil from them, rinse, repeat.

        If you're going to take things from the system, you have to add things to the system somewhere. Whether those resources are added naturally or artificially, there has to be input somewhere.
        • Re:Just use hemp. (Score:5, Informative)

          by mconeone ( 765767 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:00PM (#20542865)
          I'm guessing the sun, water, and soil play a part...
          • Re:Just use hemp. (Score:5, Informative)

            by rossifer ( 581396 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:45PM (#20543591) Journal
            In the coarsest terms, plants require both bioavailable carbon and bioavailable nitrogen along with a few other nutrients to grow. The atmosphere supplies bioavailable carbon to plants through CO2. But atmospheric nitrogen is not usable by plants. Bioavailable nitrogen must be supplied to plants through their roots, and it doesn't just appear in soil and water. Some nitrogen appears in topsoil, but agriculture will quickly deplete nutrient supplies. If they aren't replaced, you end up with productivity losses, loss of cropland, and in the worst case, desertification.

            Means of nutrient replacement:
            1. Tilling animal manure into the soil.
            2. Tilling composted plant material into the soil.
            3. Planting nitrogen fixing plants (peas, beans, etc.) and then tilling them into the soil.
            4. Leaving the field fallow (without a crop) for several years (a slower version of (2)).
            5. Adding fertilizer
            So what this article is claiming is that the seedcake left over from oilpressing contains all of the nitrogen and other nutrients needed to restore the soil using just technique (2). That's an extraordinary claim. This plant is not a legume or one of the other nitrogen fixing plants [wikipedia.org], so by itself, cannot increase the amount of nitrogen in the soil. Some of the nitrogen will be unusable in the seedcake, some of the nitrogen needed to grow the plant will go into other parts of the plant that will have other economic uses or take too long to compost. A 100% cycle of nitrogen back into the soil would be great, but doesn't make any sense.

            As for the sun and water, well, they can only do so much given that neither one is a supply of the nutrients needed to keep the soil healthy.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Rei ( 128717 )
              If we believed that your list was the only way nutrients entered the system, we'd have to believe that Earth had "soil" before life evolved. ;)

              Nutrients come from all sorts of sources. Erosion can lead to dust, and dust deposits provide nutrients (one of the prime seeders of life in the open ocean). Lichen can also break down rock. Microbes and simple abrasion can do their share in more typical farm environments. Then there's the waste and remains of transitory animals (birds, rodents, etc). As for nit
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by rossifer ( 581396 )

                If we believed that your list was the only way nutrients entered the system, we'd have to believe that Earth had "soil" before life evolved. ;)

                That list is of the means that can supply agriculturally significant quantities of nutrients. i.e. agricultural replenishment. Sure there are other mechanisms that create natural topsoil, but they operate over timeframes that don't permit dedicated agriculture.

                Basically, what this article is saying is that the oil from this weed removes so little nutrients that if

                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by Rei ( 128717 )
                  It's not really that exceptional; there's even a term for it ("pioneer species").
                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by kiracatgirl ( 791797 )
                  I'm not a farmer or anything, but you should take into account that most crop plats have entire substantial portions of the plant completely removed. The fruit, the seeds, the leaves, sometimes the entire plant, and so on. In this case, however, all that's being actually removed is the oil from the fruit, and the rest of the fruit is being dropped back on the plants. I don't think there are any other primary crop plants where the bulk of the harvested material is even considered for being used as fertili
        • Re:Just use hemp. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by WalksOnDirt ( 704461 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:29PM (#20543329)

          You can't take oil from the plant, use the rest of the plant to grow more plants, take oil from them, rinse, repeat.
          As long as you are just taking hydrocarbons out you can, since those can be produced from carbon dioxide and water. You're bound to get trace amounts of things like phosphorus, sulfur and potassium in the oil, but if the amounts are small then replacing them is easy. Wind blown dust will do some of that with no effort by the grower.
      • The 85% SOLUTION (Score:5, Insightful)

        by StCredZero ( 169093 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:55PM (#20543735)
        Electric cars with a practical range approaching 200 miles would suffice for most of the driving needs of most of the populace. If people could buy the cars, then subscribe to a battery service, this would enable fast battery module swaps. But most of the time, people would just charge overnight at home.

        The other 20% would still need some form of internal combustion vehicle for dealing with heavier loads. But this would be much easier to provide with biodiesel than all of the vehicular needs of North America.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Rei ( 128717 )
          The Tesla, a $100k electric sports car with lithium (read: "expensive and problematic") batteries, only gets 200 mi. More realistic electric cars for the general public (with NiMH or some of the reduced capacity but greater safety and lifespan lithiums) are in the 50-100 mile range.

          Yes, that sort of range covers city driving. But people don't like having options eliminated from them, and don't want to have to rent or borrow someone else's vehicle when they need to go long distances. For good reason, too.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Tim Doran ( 910 )
            Somebody mod this up - the current crop of hybrids are a bad idea, designed to sell cars rather than conserve fuel. Your hybrid Camry, Accord or SUV engages the gasoline engine directly through the gearbox to assist in acceleration. This necessarily adds significant complexity and weight and requires a more powerful engine than would be used to simply charge the batteries.

            The parent post talks about the right way to do it - a small, simple gas or diesel engine used only to charge the batteries. No complex g
            • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @10:18PM (#20547909) Homepage
              Diesel-electric trains work this way. There's a diesel engine which runs a a constant RPM generating electricity to drive the train.

              The main reason for doing it is that you don't need a gearbox. A train which had to change gears would be a real disaster.

              Electric motors have mountains of torque to get the train moving and the fact that the diesel part runs at constant RPM means the engine can be highly tuned for efficiency.

              I don't know if a car could work this way, but it's a thought.

              If you include some capacitors in the system they could give you a huge push for a quick getaway at traffic lights, overtaking, etc. This would reduce the overall power requirements of the generator and improve efficiency even more.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mcrbids ( 148650 )
          This argument gets heard all the time. But it's simply not true. Yes, you can satisfy 80% of the trips made by an average family with an electric vehicle. But that's quite different than satisfying 80% of the USERS. That occasional trip, that 1 in 5 trip that can't be done by an EV (easily) is a show-stopper.

          Take a look at the 80/20 myth [joelonsoftware.com] for a good explanation of how this dynamic works out in practice.
      • I think he is trying to convince you that hemp is a getaway fuel, not a gateway fuel.
    • Problem in the math (Score:2, Informative)

      by tjstork ( 137384 )
      From your article: Grown for oilseed, Canadian grower's yields average 1 tonne/hectare, or about 400 lbs. per acre. Cannabis seed contains about 28% oil (112 lbs.), or about 15 gallons per acre.

      To meet the gasoline consumption needs of the USA would require about 9 billion acres at the above rate. This is about 4 times the size of the USA, including Alaska, and thus is probably not a workable plan.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by h2_plus_O ( 976551 )
        Yes, but it's much better than anything we're doing right now in the realm of biofuel generation.

        I think the point here is not that any one strategy will solve everything- as you note, it won't. That's no reason to shoot down something better than what we've got.
    • Re:Just use hemp. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by cromar ( 1103585 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:46PM (#20542633)
      The nations need to get their collective heads out of their collective asses and see what a Good Thing(TM) hemp is (and I'm not even talking about it's psychoactive properties). Hemp could solve so many environmental/economical/jocular problems it's ridiculous to regulate it so heavily.

      "Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!" - The Writings of George Washington (1794)
    • Re:Just use hemp. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Smidge204 ( 605297 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:59PM (#20542845) Journal
      A hectare (2.47 acres) of jatropha produces 1,892 liters (500 gallons) of fuel. 202 gallons per acre.

      Hemp seed yields 15 gallons per acre.

      As much as I think hemp is a valuable crop - which it certainly is - the jatropha seems like a better choice for biofuel production. Over 12 times better, in fact.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by evilviper ( 135110 )

      It is a very good biomass source, it grows just about everywhere.

      It's a terrible fuel crop, yeilding far less biodiesel than many more popular options like soy. It's better than corn, but corn is a terrible biofuel crop.

      Your reasons for pushing Hemp surely have nothing at all to do with it's biofuel properties.
    • Re:Just use hemp. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @04:09PM (#20543967) Journal
      Me and several environmentalist friends have been screaming for years: "Kudzu you assholes!!!"

      Not only is it a weed, it's practically a menace, damned near impossible to kill, grows over acres in a season, requires only rain as it produces its own nitrogen (no fertilizers needed) and grows almost everywhere in the USA and most other countries. It's also NOT poisonous, and actually smells quite nice (I wouldn't make perfume out of it, but at least not offensive).

      Using celulostic conversion processes (like the new facility being built near Atlanta Georgia will be diing using wood from trees) it can produce massive ammounts of ethanol easily, efficiently, and most important, cheaply. It's easy to harvest and transport without complicated equipment (an industrial lawnmower would do just fine). We don't need any massive investments to start doing this TODAY. Other than building cellulostic ethanol factories, and some ethanol pipelines, we alredy have everything else (unlike corn, sugarbeets, biodiesel, hydrogen, dirtect electric, or other proposed systems)

      In terms of ethanol per pound of material, it's not the best choice (some forms of algae do better), but in terms of ethanol per acre of land, or ethanol per dollar spent, I challenge you to find anything better!!!
      • Re:Just use hemp. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Amouth ( 879122 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @04:47PM (#20544561)
        Simple answer - I live in the south - and if I ever catch someone planting Kudzu on purpose - i will beat the shit out of them.....
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Chris Burke ( 6130 )
        Not only is it a weed, it's practically a menace, damned near impossible to kill, grows over acres in a season, requires only rain as it produces its own nitrogen (no fertilizers needed) and grows almost everywhere in the USA and most other countries.

        Uh... Yeah, "uncontrollable growth" isn't exactly what I call a strong selling point for agriculture.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by radl33t ( 900691 )
        Using celulostic conversion processes ... can produce massive ammounts of ethanol easily, efficiently, and most important, cheaply.

        What kind of cellulose processing is that? I don't know of any methods that can do any one of those three, let alone all of them. I claim that processing cellulose, hemi cellulose, and lignin is difficult, inefficient, and expensive. To me, this explains why tech has not developed commercially. Since you deny each of my claims, what do you propose have been the commercial c
      • by oni ( 41625 )
        Kudzu you assholes

        ok, I'll bite. How do you plan to harvest kudzu? It's not like wheat that just stands up in nice rows ready to be cut. Kudzu wants to climb something. If you plant it in the middle of an empty field it'll spread out, but not get more than two or three inches off the ground until it finds something it can climb. I hardly think the amount of usable biomass you get from something three inches off the ground justifies the cost of clearing the field. When kudzu climbs something, it wraps
  • by Descalzo ( 898339 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:37PM (#20542461) Journal

    Poor farmers living close to the equator are planting jatropha on millions of acres spurred on by big oil companies like British Petroleum that are investing in jatropha cultivation."
    How dare they exploit the poor farmers like this?

    Plus, this takes important jobs away from corn farmers in the USA.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mi ( 197448 )

      Just wait 'till someone like the evil Monsanto figures out a way to genetically modify this weed to either boost the oil contents even further, or make it capable of growing in Antarctica, or both... Then we will get the showdown...

    • Yeah, you joke. That's exactly how the politicians will spin it.
  • Sounds similar (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jtroutman ( 121577 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:38PM (#20542479)
    This sounds like what they are doing [newscientist.com] in more arid regions with Jojoba [wikipedia.org], which is similar in that is grows in places other plants won't, requires little water and produces an oil that can power diesel engines.
  • by eln ( 21727 ) * on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:39PM (#20542487) Homepage
    This is a noxious fast-growing weed, apparently kept in check in its native environment due to the fact that the soil and weather conditions there are terrible for growing anything. However, TFA mentions that various companies are looking at planting this thing all over the place, including areas that have good soil and growth-friendly climates.

    So what happens when we start planting this thing everywhere? Could this turn into the next kudzu?
    • by Dan Ost ( 415913 )
      Can you use Kudzu for anything beyond ground cover?
      • The roots can be ground to use as a thickener in soups and stews, the young leaves can be used like any other greens, and the flowers can be used to make jelly. Additionally, it can be processed into soap, lotion, paper, and cloth. It helps fight erosion and can also be used for animal feed.
      • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <Satanicpuppy@gma3.14il.com minus pi> on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:58PM (#20542823) Journal
        Theoretically it could be used for animal feed...That's part of how it was originally pitched to farmers in the South, that their cows would eat it. Well, they may nibble the leaves, but that's about it.

        Goats, on the other hand, go to fricking TOWN on the stuff...They'll eat it right down to the roots, and can actually permanently clear kudzu from an area making them and napalm the best methods for getting rid of it. Considering how much goats eat, the two could form a hell of a relationship, assuming we could persuade anyone in this country to eat goat.
    • by rah1420 ( 234198 )
      I was thinking the same thing. Could this be the next Chinese Sumac? [davesgarden.com]
    • So what happens when we start planting this thing everywhere?

      I for one, would just welcome our new, fast growing, poisonous weedy overlords.

      It's easier that way, besides I hate yardwork.

    • by MollyB ( 162595 ) *
      I don't know, but these folks [jatrophaworld.org] seem determined to spread it nonetheless.
  • by HerculesMO ( 693085 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:40PM (#20542511)
    with BP every day. They are the only major oil company to seem to "get" that oil won't last forever. They have invested money into solar technologies (walk into Home Depot), lowered their own emissions requirements to meet standards that don't even exist yet, and now are shown to be investing heavily into alternative "bio" fuels. Exxon and the like seem content to just pulling oil from the ground and putting it into pumps.

    Just a simple thought. They are still an "evil oil company" thus far as I can see... but at least they have vision for the future and aren't thinking oil will last forever as the Bush administration thinks it will.
    • They are still an "evil oil company" thus far as I can see...
      They re-branded themselves as an energy company a couple of years ago.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Penguinisto ( 415985 )
      It is nice on the surface.

      OTOH, it makes perfect sense that an energy company wants to maintain their dominance even after their original product (petroleum) runs out. Now if BP is busily publishing their research results on all of the alternate energies, cool... but if they're keeping it a secret (or at least hard-to-get), then it's merely a matter of going from being a dominant force in one segment of the energy industry towards being a dominant force in the others, before the rest realize what's up and

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Colin Smith ( 2679 )
        Belief in exclusivity is what drives business, and innovation. Giving something away just lowers the apparent value.

    • by Deagol ( 323173 )
      BP just realizes that there's tons of good PR to be made from appeasing to the "greenie weenie" demographic (you know, the ones that pat themselves on the back for buying over-priced pesticide-free terrycloth bathrobes from catalogs like Gaiam [gaiam.com]). I doubt that any of the oil producers are truly interested in any of these alternative oil sources, unless they plan on patenting them to get a piece of the pie.
    • by Dan Ost ( 415913 )
      According to my sister-in-law (who works for a large oil company), Exxon is the only one that isn't looking into alternative energy sources like solar, wind, and biofuel. Exxon seems to take the strategy of waiting to see what works and then buying whoever figured it out.
      • Exxon seems to take the strategy of waiting to see what works and then buying whoever figured it out.

        Why does this seem vaguely familiar? Can anyone help me with this? Twitter? Erris?

    • ..."beyond petroleum". But then again, this is the same BP that just lost HUGE in the court of public opinion when everyone in Chicago started complaining about the fact that they wanted to dump more pollutants into Lake Michigan [autobloggreen.com]. Hell, even Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam called attention to it [autobloggreen.com] at Lollapalooza.

      Frankly, I'm not impressed with BP. This big bad oil company is doing nothing more than chasing the $$$. You'd better believe that if oil prices dropped, they wouldn't hesitate to cancel these programs.
      • by QMO ( 836285 )

        even Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam called attention to it
        And if that's not enough to convince you, you just don't have critical thinking skills.
    • ...the New York Times reports that jatropha may replace biofuels like ethanol that require large amounts of water, fertilizer, and energy, making their environmental benefits limited.

      Great. Does it also require so few farmers and so little arable land that it has no effect on the production of food crop? Or will it push up the prices of food significantly in poor countries, as other biofuel crops have done?

  • by mpoulton ( 689851 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:41PM (#20542539)
    "nutrient-rich seed cake left after oil is pressed from its nuts"

    Anybody else cross their legs and cringe when reading this?
    • by mh1997 ( 1065630 )

      Anybody else cross their legs and cringe when reading this?
      No cringing here. Cool, I didn't read the article and yet still found a way to post.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Jatropha is a poisonous weed, yet it cures constipation? In the same way hemlock would cure constipation?
  • If only they could find a way to make fuel out of kudzu. Anyone driving through the south could just pull over and refuel.
  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:45PM (#20542613)
    Too many billions in subsidies going into the maw of ethanol production.
  • Hmm, some quick calculations showed that if we plant all of North America with this weed exclusively, then we will get almost enough oil to sustain the current consumption. Maybe if we add all of Europe too... Quick, bring the bulldozers so we can start plowing up all these pesky cities and farms that are cluttering up the place!
    • Well, you could also switch from a form of transport which is 12% efficient to something better.
  • by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:47PM (#20542643)
    The new weed burning cars will be available is many, many, many different colors.

    So many colors...

    Wait... what?
  • Not cost effective (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ChrisMaple ( 607946 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:54PM (#20542759)
    According to the article, the price of fuel derived from this will be in excess of $1/liter, or about $4/gallon. That's more that diesel is now. Something will have to change for this to be profitable.
  • "Jatropha, an ugly, fast-growing and poisonous weed that has been used as a remedy for constipation..."
    What the article fails to mention is the the "refinement" of this fuel source includes feeding it to the poor farmers, attaching a collection bag and waiting 12-24 hours to harvest the resultant natural gas.
  • Incineration (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Silentknyght ( 1042778 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:55PM (#20542769)
    I'm at a loss as to why incineration isn't being touted as the next wave of energy production. I suppose the common man doesn't understand that the fuel stock doesn't greatly matter or differ when it comes out of the stack, provided the usual pollution control devices.

    You're going to have nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), and depending on the fuel & control devices used, varying levels of particulates, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). You're going to get this whether you burn the horribly-connoted "coal" or the relatively-benignly-connoted "wood". Plant matter, like that specified in TFA, isn't all that different from "wood", and actually used to be lumped together in the "biomass" definition until the US Supreme Court vacated the appropriate legislation set forth by the EPA.

    Point being... all of this is the generation of additional waste stream for fuel, instead of utilizing an existing waste stream for fuel. I applaud the thought and intent, but why not use the garbage we already generate for fuel? RDF (refuse-derived fuel) boilers already exist for electrical generation...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Politburo ( 640618 )
      One thing is that until recently, installing all of the devices to control NOx, SOx, PM, and heavy metals such as mercury was cost prohibitive than using a more refined fuel. Fuel for vehicles needs to have a consistent energy density and be generally clean so that it does not foul the mechanisms or poison the catalyst. You can't do that with RDF, which is why it's used for cogeneration. Plus there is all sorts of monitoring you must do to ensure you're not burning something that got in the waste stream by
  • If BP changes it's corporate directive, or the Jatropha plant isn't the great biomass solution it's touted to be, then we have millions of acres planted with "ugly, fast-growing and poisonous weed" which is "resilient to pests and resistant to drought". Oh, great. While we're at it, let's introduce rabbits like they did into Australia [wikipedia.org], and kudzu like in the Southern US [wikipedia.org]. Don't get me started on Zebra mussles or sea lampreys in the Great Lakes. Ok, so there's not much in the way of swampland in central Africa, but the point is that Really Bad Things happen wherever mankind does something that drastically alters the native environment. I wonder if global warming and increased CO2 will help the plant grow faster and more obnoxious?
  • by jlcooke ( 50413 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:57PM (#20542805) Homepage
    Allow me to be crack-pot.

    This is old news, like 20 years old. Mainstream old, it's more like 5 years. Still old.

    Real biofuel folk know that Algae is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

    J-plant's seeds are 40% oil. Some breeds of Algae are 50% oil by TOTAL PLANT MASS.

    Not to mention it's the fastest growing plant - faster than bamboo.

    Not to mention it's the easiest thing to grow (water, dirt, shit, sunlight). Just think about how much work people go through to keep it out of a chlorinated pool. What would happen if actually tried to grow it?

    Not to mention you don't need arable land to grow algae - desert works exceptionally well. Beside a nuclear (pr. new-clear) power plant will let you use waste heat to keep the green stuff growing all winter as well.

    Industrial algae production, 100's of hectares of 1m deep concrete pools and greenhouses. Constantly skimming fractions of the population allowing re-growth. We're talking constant production, no expensive equipment to harvest.

    The man doesn't want you to know.
  • by AnotherBlackHat ( 265897 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:08PM (#20543007) Homepage
    Lex Worrall, chief executive of Helius Energy, claims Jatropha can produce 2.7 tonnes of oil per hectare. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article2155351.ece [timesonline.co.uk]

    For comparison, corn produces about 0.15 tonnes per hectare, hemp about 0.30 tonnes, and canola (rapeseed) only 1.0 tonnes.
    So if he's right, it's a very good oil producer, on the order of much harder to grow oil producers like avocado (2.2) or coconut (2.3).

    Still 1/5 of algae though.

    -- Should you believe authority without question?
  • by protomala ( 551662 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:29PM (#20543345) Homepage
    Petrobras (brazilian oil company) is researching a *lot* of seeds and already does create diesel from them. There is a lwa that states that next year brazilian diesel will have to use a small percentage of bio-diesel, so this isn't a "what if", but a growing market reality in Brazil.
    You can get more info on Petrobras site:
    http://www2.petrobras.com.br/portal/frame.asp?pagina=/minisite/bioenergia/terra/index.asp&lang=pt&area=bioenergia [petrobras.com.br] (portuguese). There is even a list of used plants.

    A similar example here in south america is getting bio-diesel from Mamona (castor oil plant - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castor_oil_plant [wikipedia.org]), that is also poison if eaten and very strong to plagues and easy to grown.
  • Fun stuff (Score:5, Informative)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:32PM (#20543393) Journal
    "its sap is a skin irritant, and ingesting three untreated seeds can kill a person."

    "Western Australia banned the plant as invasive and highly toxic to people and animals."

    "Jatropha needs at least 600mm (23in) of rain a year to thrive."

    "20 per cent of seedlings planted will not survive"

    "farmers in India are already expressing frustration that after being encouraged to plant huge swaths of the bush they have found no buyers for the seeds."

    "needs two to three years to develop into a cash crop."

  • by RealProgrammer ( 723725 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:41PM (#20543533) Homepage Journal
    This one hurts on so many levels:

    Jatropha requires no pesticides, little water other than rain and no fertilizer beyond the nutrient-rich seed cake left after oil is pressed from its nuts.
    1. No plants require pesticides.
    2. Very few land-based plants require water other than rain, plants being unable to distinguish the source of their H2O.
    3. As someone mentioned, most plants are able to live on soil and their own detritus.
    4. I cannot contemplate for long the prospect of all those poor plants having their nuts crushed. Ooh, I hate when that happens!
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:44PM (#20543571) Journal
    Just a week or two back, in my alumni group a friend posted the following info about Jatropha:

    I heard about Jatropha before. While I don't have anything specific to
    say about Jatropha, there are some general comments I have about
    bio-based approaches.

    1. Plants can absorb light only in the range 400nm-700nm, capturing
    only 43% of the of the radiation.

    2. It has to collect CO2, and hence can use only 25% of the available

    3. That brings down the theoretical efficiency of photosynthesis to
    11%. Figure in the absorption of light, and the plant has to spend
    some energy on itself, what it can give you comes down to 6.5% at best.

    I don't how Jatropha compares to algae, but you can can be sure that
    it is not going to exceed 6.5%. Put the fuel in an IC engine, you are
    probably talking 2% efficiency of photon-to-wheels at best.
  • by non ( 130182 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @04:04PM (#20543865) Homepage Journal
    "What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."
  • by multimediavt ( 965608 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @04:14PM (#20544051)
    Ok folks, we've seen this time and time again throughout history. Someone finds a cool plant that does something wonderful and then mass plants it outside its native habitat and it starts growing wild and taking over native plant stocks. Can you say kudzu!?!?!? I hope someone stops and thinks about this before they take a knee jerk reaction and start commercializing this stuff and we end up with a greater natural disaster than just polluting our environment. This plant sounds very hearty and seems to offer some interesting possibilities, but let's not go off half cocked at every possibility for replacing fossil fuels!
  • Got to go (Score:3, Funny)

    by Jon Luckey ( 7563 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @04:18PM (#20544115)
    "Jatropha, an ugly, fast-growing and poisonous weed that has been used as a remedy for constipation...

    I can hardly wait to be stuck in a traffic jam where the smog could instill yet another kind of 'need to go' to the situation.
  • by John Sokol ( 109591 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @06:14PM (#20545601) Homepage Journal
    I spend several weeks in India last summer studying Jatropha.
      My wife's father S.W. Mensinkai founded University of Agricultural Sciences in Dharwad, near Hubli in Karnataka India (8 hrs by train north of Bangalore). He is considers the father of plant genetics in India. They are doing genetic engineering of Jatropha there.

    See photo's
    http://www.dnull.com/~sokol/images6/index.html [dnull.com]

    One of the programs they are pushing is for farmer to plant Jatropha on the borders of other crops in the fields, turns out the bulls that wonder freely in India will not go near the stuff, so a row of these trees keeps them out of the farmers crops.

    Very interesting work.

    I brought back a hand full of seeds with me, and planted them, but they didn't take, maybe the Airport X-ray scanners killed them.

      Jatropha is related to the Castor bean plan that is responsible that the neurotoxin ricin is derived from.
      It also have a toxin called curcin that is similar to ricin.

      I don't know if burning Jatropha oil release this curcin toxin into the air?

      But apparently when it's pressed to get the Oil out, the curcin remains in the "Cake" this is the solids left behind after the seeds have all the oils squeezed out.

    From: http://www.intox.org/databank/documents/plant/jatropha/jhast.htm [intox.org]
          2.5 Poisonous parts
                            All parts are considered toxic but in particular the seeds.
          2.6 Main toxins
                            Contains a purgative oil and a phytotoxin or toxalbumin
                            (curcin) similar to ricin in Ricinis.

      Apparently Canola oil (Short for Canadian Oil)is a genetically modified Rape seed (in the mustard family) with the toxins removed.

      So if Jatropha had it's toxins removed through genetic modification it could also be a valuable food product.

    Later in 2006 I moved to Santa Barbara and it turns out the first company in the US to start producing Jatropha Oils and Bio-Diesel was here in Santa Barbara. http://www.biodieselindustries.com/ [biodieselindustries.com] They were even doing a project with the local High School to grow Jatropha.

    Also Jatropha Oil is being use on the Indian Railways for some time too. I guess the plan is to plant Jatropha trees along the tracks, it keep the animals off the tracks and also since labor is very cheap, they would use the same trains to harvest the tree's for oil to power the trains.

    One of the projects I was thinking of was to develop an engine optimized to run on Jatropha Oil.
    More importantly these three wheeled auto-rickshaws (called Tuck Tucks in Thailand) all use the exact same engines, so the idea is to make a direct drop in engine for rickshaws. The rickshaws there are Two-stroke gas engines and are a major source of pollution there spewing clouds of choking soot behind them. Maybe some day.

    More good links:
    http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_yield.html [journeytoforever.org]
    http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2005/10/20/stories/2005102002021100.htm [thehindubusinessline.com]
    http://www.biodieseltechnologiesindia.com/ [biodieselt...sindia.com]
    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2007/04/tnt_starts_biod.html [greencarcongress.com]

Premature optimization is the root of all evil. -- D.E. Knuth