Only a few years ago Jatropha was considered to be the wonder biodiesel feedstock suitable for production by small scale farmers in poor soils and arid countries. It has not lived up to the hype and it will be years before it can compete agronomically with soya and it is not scalable to the refining industry’s needs under small scale farming. Small scale rural farmers are more easily integrated into Jatropha based electrification in underdeveloped rural areas.
The Jatropha Spin
Jatropha curcas, also known as the Physic nut, is a perennial poisonous shrub. It is an uncultivated non-food wild-species that grows easily in hedges and scattered around homesteads. It was spread from Central America to Africa by Portuguese traders who introduced it as a hedge material and a source of oil for light. Continue reading
This is a particularly nice idea where the biodiesel can be used to meet simpler energy needs such as lamps, cooking stoves and unsophisticated generators.
However, this blog addresses few of the issues that will impact on the achievement of sustainable operation of this type of small production, especially at the bottom of the pyramid.
Even the original article presents little more than concepts and ideas. A few of the issues:
- A major quality problem arises when trying to use biodiesel in modern high technology engines. I am not sure that anyone can define where the difference comes between simple and sophisticated engines so doing it is a try & fail thing unfortunately – proper quality control and measurement is very expensive and not sensible on this kind of scale.
- The statement that Jatropha is “cultivated extensively for pure plant oil (PPO) as feedstock for biodiesel fuel production in India and Africa” is a misconception based on many optimistic publications similar to this one. In fact there is little biodiesel production taking place and only limited firm data on Jatropha performance and yield, which is of course at the heart on any successful production.
- The need to change fertilisation habits to give the byproduct of oil production a value is a significant undertaking.
A final thought – does the oil not burn anyway?
Diesel designed the diesel engine to operate on simple peanut oil, are we not complicating things by introducing the toxic chemicals and chemical wastes necessary for the reaction of the oil when we aren’t able to make the highest quality product.