Jatropha curcas growing in Mozambique. Photo: Tom Rulkens via flickr.
We haven't heard much about jatropha biofuels lately, perhaps partly because in the sub-tropical and tropical plant doesn't survive even a nip of frost, making it less attractive in the US market. Based on reports in the Economic Times (India) though, General Motors is hoping to change that, looking to develop frost-tolerant varieties through a partnership with the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute.Details, such as they are: GM is investing $1.1 million into the five-year partnership with CSMCRI and the US Department of Energy. All but slightly more than $100,000 will be spent in the Indian market through 2014.
GM India president Karl Slym said,
The goal of the project is to demonstrate that jatropha can produce significant quantities of oil for commercial scale conversion to biodiesel. The partnership will also explore the development of new varieties of the plant that have high yields, [and] can withstand adverse environmental conditions.
Jatropha Commercial Success Still Elusive
If you're new to jatropha, though it's not frost-tolerant, the plant is drought-resistant, can grow in marginal soils and does not compete in the slightest with food crops (it's actually toxic on ingestion at any significant dose, producing vomiting at low levels), and has shown great promise in terms of yield per hectare. The trouble is, to produce commercial-scale quantities with reliably high crop yields requires adequate watering, good soils, and as much work as any other biofuel crop.
A number of companies have made a go at widespread commercial cultivation, but scaling up has been a problem, with promises of so-called 'elite strains' of the plant seemingly always just around the corner.
That said, small-scale cultivation for biofuel has proven viable in India, Africa and Central America.
More on Jatropha:
Jatropha Biofuel Yield in Indian Wastelands 80% Below Forecasts
Algae, Jatropha Tapped to Power Continental Airlines First Biofuel Test Flight
BP Backs Out of Jatropha Joint Venture With D1 Oils