Thursday, September 9, 2010

Genetically modifying Jatropha for biodiesel in India

If you've ever tried making biodiesel commercially you'll know that the biggest cost is by far the feedstock. This has lead to a great deal of research into more efficient alternatives to the traditional feedstocks of canola oil and soybean oil. A promising biodiesel feedstock plant being promoted in Africa, India, China and South East Asia is Jatropha Curcas which is common in hot climates and can grow in wastelands. Jatropha is already known for its huge yields; more than four times as much fuel per hectare as soybean, and more than ten times that of corn.

Jatropha is actually a wild plant though, it has never been commercially cultivated in the past so very little is known about its ideal planting conditions - how close to plant the seedlings, how often to irrigate, whether pruning is beneficial, etc. Farmer education is an important step in establishing Jatropha as a new commercial crop in these countries. Standard agronomy techniques have massively increased the yields of crops like canola in the last twenty years and it is expected that these same techniques will be able to lift Jatropha yields far above their wild results. In India, basic research is being undertaken by several groups including the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), which has launched a 10-year, $9.4 million project to research issues involved in taking Jatropha from growing the seed to producing biodiesel.

The first crops of Jatropha planted by TERI in a wasteland, have now flowered for the first time. Previously, TERI has investigated different mycorrhiza microorganisms, that improve the ability of many plants to grow in poor soil. The most promising of these fungi has seen Jatropha yields increase by 15 percent when used.

Genetically modifying Jatropha could be a short cut to higher yields in less time and TERI have a team of 20 microbiologists, molecular biologists, and field breeders who are looking for particular genes in Jatropha that can be manipulated to enhance oil percentages. The expectation is that it will be 18 months before the correct genes can be isolated and that modified plants will be in cultivation by 2012. Unlike most biodiesel feedstocks, Jatropha is a non-edible crop.

Jatropha Curcas ‘Ratanjot in Hindi’ is a little known plant species in India. The plant is grown to about 3 meters high and produces seed that contain an inedible vegetable oil that is used to produce Biofuel. India is one of the first few countries that produce Jatropha as a source of fuel as there is a looming danger of using edible crops to meet our Biofuel demands. This creates a moral issue where the food price ultimately becomes linked to the price of fuel, the results of which are self explanatory.

Each Jatropha seed produces between 35% and 37% of its mass in oil. Whereas we are all aware of the directive that requires a minimum level of Biofuel as a proportion of fuels sold, there are insufficient sources of raw material (feedstock) for making biodiesel and other Biofuel for all motor vehicles. However the Jatropha plant has many benefits for farmers and supply to the country as a whole.

  • It is drought resistant.
  • It can be grown almost anywhere - even in sandy, saline, or otherwise infertile soil.
  • It adapts well to marginal soils with low nutrient content.
  • It is relatively easy to propagate.
  • It is not invasive, damaging, or spreading like gorse.
  • It is capable of stabilizing sand dunes, acting as a windbreak or combating desertification.
  • It naturally repels insects and animals do not browse it.
  • It lives for over 50 years producing seeds all the time.
  • It is frost hardy (does not like hard freezes)
  • It does not exhaust the nutrients in the land.
  • It does not require expensive crop rotation.
  • It does not require fertilizers.
  • It grows quickly and establishes itself easily.
  • It has a high yield
  • No displacement of food crops is necessary.
  • It is great for developing countries in terms of energy and jobs.
  • The biodiesel byproduct, glycerin, is profitable in itself.
  • The waste plant mass after oil extraction can be used as a fertilizer.
  • The plant itself recycles 100% of the CO2 emissions produced by burning the biodiesel.

EWBioFuel & ReEnergy (I) Pvt. Ltd. is dedicated towards the promotion of Jatropha Curcas (Ratanjot) in India and the world. The Jatropha Plant is grown to produce Jatropha seed which is used to make Jatropha Biodiesel. As mentioned above that Jatropha seeds produce between 35% and 37% of their mass in oil and this is why the Jatropha tree is commonly referred to as the Biodiesel Jatropha Plant.

The Jatropha tree is cultivated to about 3 meters high and produces seed that contain an inedible vegetable oil that's used to produce biodiesel and other oil related products.

There are however insufficient raw materials (feedstock) in India at this stage for making biodiesel and other Biofuel to run these economies in accordance with these directives. The introduction of Jatropha thus brings about a great source and opportunity to the economy and to the ever increasing fuel market.

One can plant 2500 Jatropha trees per hectare at 2m apart for commercial purposes. With good planning, quality planting material, standard farming practices and good crop management Jatropha should yield approximately 10 tons of seed per hectare from the fifth year onwards. (That is 10,000kgs of seed per hectare). At an extraction rate of 37% one can get 3.7 tons of oil. (That’s is 3,700kgs of oil per hectare) The specific density of Jatropha Oil is 0.916kgs per liter. Therefore production per hectare is 0.916 x 3700 = 3,389 liters.

Jatropha may also be planted at 2.5 and 3m apart. In cooler climates it does better at larger distances apart. Well spaced trees will receive more sunlight and therefore do much better. The advantage is that you will be able to retain cattle to keep the grass down or plant other food crops in between.

There's also Intercropping. Jatropha is a natural nitrogen fixer when planted along with other crops in symbiosis. Jatropha has in fact increased food production in many countries where non cultivated land has been developed. This dismisses the widely held view that Jatropha has or will displace food crops.

Jatropha bio diesel readily mixes with diesel fuel and it runs in any diesel engine without modification, it reduces air pollution due to substantial reduction in emitting carbon monoxides, hydrocarbons and air toxic, Mutagen-city studies shows that bio diesel may dramatically reduces potential risks of cancer and birth defects.

Success story of Jatropha Biodiesel:

First Commercial Jet Flight Using Jatropha Biodiesel a Success:
After postponing the flight for about a month, Air New Zealand has become the first airline to test a 50/50 blend of second generation Jatropha biodiesel and standard A1 jet fuel in a Boeing 747-400 passenger jet. The company has hailed the test as a milestone for commercial aviation.

The flight lasted two hours and ran one of the plane’s Rolls-Royce engines on the Jatropha biodiesel blend. Air New Zealand has previously stated that they want to become the world’s most sustainable airline and hopes that by 2013, 10% of its flights will be powered by Biofuel blends such as the Jatropha biodiesel blend used in this test flight.

Virgin Atlantic Biofuel Flight

Virgin Atlantic has become the first airline to fly with Biofuel, something airline boss Richard Branson calls "a vital breakthrough".

The Boeing 747-400 flew from London to Amsterdam on a Sunday, carrying in one of its four fuel tanks a 20-percent mix of Biofuel derived from coconut and babassu oil. That may not sound like much, but it is the first time a commercial aircraft has flown any distance using renewable energy. Branson said the "historic" flight marks the first step toward reducing the airline industry’s carbon footprint.

Japan Airlines (JAL) Biofuel Flight

A Boeing 747-300 aircraft (bottom) of Japan Airlines (JAL) taxis past another JAL Boeing for the first demonstration flight powered by Biofuel, at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on January 30, 2009.

A blend of 50 percent Biofuel and 50 percent traditional Jet-A (kerosene) fuel was tested in one of the aircraft's four engines which were decorated in a special green design to mark the event.


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