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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."
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New Wonder Weed to Fuel Cars?

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  • Problem in the math (Score:2, Informative)

    by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd.bandrowsky@gma i l .com> on Monday September 10, 2007 @02:41PM (#20542527) Homepage Journal
    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: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: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...
  • 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?
  • NZ (Score:4, Informative)

    by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:12PM (#20543069)
    The man missed New Zealand then: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/SC0605/S00030.htm [scoop.co.nz]
  • 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.
  • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <SatanicpuppyNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:31PM (#20543367) Journal
    I'm a big fan of goat cheese, and I've had goat before and found it tasty. That's me though. I served a pork tenderloin to my in-laws (they're my middle-america touchstone...if I want to find out what people who love Wal-Mart like, I ask them) last week, and they looked at me like I was fricking crazy...Pork for them was sausage, barbeque, or bacon, or maybe a chop. Jesus, if you can't even get people here to eat the whole pig, then pushing goat (or lamb for that matter) is a lost cause.
  • Re:Just use hemp. (Score:5, Informative)

    by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:31PM (#20543385) Journal
    it's from Vegoil and biodiesel [wikipedia.org].
  • 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."

  • Re:Incineration (Score:3, Informative)

    by Politburo ( 640618 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @03:39PM (#20543511)
    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 accident.
  • 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.

  • OK (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 10, 2007 @04:01PM (#20543837)
    I like to get high, and the government is wasting your tax money. Now do something about it, and stop voting for those Drug War assholes.
  • Re:The 85% SOLUTION (Score:3, Informative)

    by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @05:08PM (#20544875) Journal
    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.
  • Re:Just use hemp. (Score:3, Informative)

    by rossifer ( 581396 ) on Monday September 10, 2007 @05:22PM (#20545021) Journal
    Nitrogen fixing plants use nitrogen fixing bacteria to do their "nitrogen fixing" thing. That was number (3) on my list as the only way to get enough nitrogen fixing bacteria into the soil is attached to the root systems of the plants that support them.

  • by hawk ( 1151 ) <hawk@eyry.org> on Monday September 10, 2007 @05:39PM (#20545217) Journal
    >See Monsanto v. Schmeiser and foreign counterparts.

    Please do.

    The court there found that it was not a matter of his fields being contaminated, but of him using Roundup to kill the regular plants before harvesting "his" seed . . .

  • 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]

  • by hawk ( 1151 ) <hawk@eyry.org> on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @12:36AM (#20548897) Journal
    Ahh,nuts. As long as I'm wasign time on this (the game is boring at the moment).

    From your own source:

    As established in the original Federal Court trial decision, Schmeiser first discovered Roundup-resistant canola in his crops in 1997.[2] He had used Roundup herbicide to clear weeds around power poles and in ditches adjacent to a public road running beside one of his fields, and noticed that some of the canola which had been sprayed had survived. Schmeiser then performed a test by applying Roundup to an additional three to four acres of the same field. He found that 60% of the canola plants survived. At harvest time, Schmeiser instructed a farmhand to harvest the test field. That seed was stored separately from the rest of the harvest, and used the next year to seed approximately 1,000 acres (4 km) of canola. ...
    While the origin of the plants on Schmeisers farm remains unclear, the trial judge found that "none of the suggested sources [proposed by Schmeiser] could reasonably explain the concentration or extent of Roundup Ready canola of a commercial quality" ultimately present in Schmeiser's crop.
    And then, from the Supreme Court decision itself,

    Tests of their 1998 canola crop revealed that 95-98 percent was Roundup Ready Canola. ...
    In this case, the appellants' saving and planting seed, then harvesting and selling plants that contained the patented cells and genes appears, on a common sense view, to constitute "utilization" of the patented material for production and advantage, within the meaning of s. 42. ...
    By cultivating a plant containing the patented gene and composed of the patented cells without license, the appellants deprived the respondents of the full enjoyment of the monopoly. The appellants' involvement with the disputed canola was also clearly commercial in nature. ...
    Second, the appellants did not provide sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption of use. ...
    The appellants actively cultivated Roundup Ready Canola as part of their business operations. In light of all of the relevant considerations, the appellants used the patented genes and cells, and infringement is established.
    Amazing, actually reading the case utterly wipes out the claims made as to what happened (not a rare thing on slashdot).

    But wait, it gets better. From reading your post (and the similar ones in oh-so-many-threads, one might think that this farmer that deliberately selected for the monsanto genes had been wiped out.

    Now I'll switch to being a *real* wet blanket. Again, from the Canadian Supreme Court:

    The appellants' profits were precisely what they would have been had they planted and harvested ordinary canola. Nor did they gain any agricultural advantage from the herbicide resistant nature of the canola since no finding was made that they sprayed with Roundup herbicide to reduce weeds. On this evidence, the appellants earned no profit from the invention and the respondents are entitled to nothing on their claim of account.
    For those too lazy to read understand the issue, such as the author of the grandparent of this psot, I'll translate to English:

    1. The fammrer was not an innocent who happened to have a few stray plants with the Monsanto seed contaminate his crops. Rather, after litigation, the court found that he deliberately selected for the monsanto plants, killing his other crops to generate seed that was 95-98% monsanto.

    2. He still paid no damages.

    But, hey, don't let the facts get in the way of a good political screed . . .

    hawk, esq., still not giving legal advice.

    p.s. you can find the Canadian Supreme Court ruling at http://scc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2004/2004scc34/2004scc34.html [umontreal.ca] ...
  • by techspeak(c) ( 1123205 ) on Tuesday September 11, 2007 @07:36AM (#20551169) Homepage
    Its been years that my friend has been growing Jathropa in our desert town of Jaipur. He got the technology from Israel, one of the best places to learn about the plant. The seeds are sold for about USD60 per KG and are used to make aviation grade fuel. The rest of the plant is like a plant. I am not a farmer but I know that mustard oil can be used to light lamps and that vegetable oil can be used in furnaces after processing chemically.

    Jathropa and bio diesel (made from sugarcane) are being tested to power vehicles because they are cleaner fuels and can help protect the environment, because they do not leave any heavy water, nuclear waste or ocean bed unstabilities behind. The projects are being funded by the Government of India and the IITs.

    If anyone needs more information on this, I will try to find out and pass it on.

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.