Of the 175 species of jatropha, it is Jatropha curcas that is a hot topic in alternative biofuel production. Native to Central America and naturalized in Africa, Asia and North America, Jatropha curcas is a poisonous perennial shrub that can grow in desertlike conditions. With the rising costs of fossil fuels and the concern of their availability in the years ahead, jatropha may become a significant alternative fuel solution.
A Strong Shrub
The jatropha shrub, also known as physic nut, nutmeg nut and Barbados nut, is a very hardy species that resists pests and can withstand drought conditions. It can produce seeds year round, depending on soil moisture and temperature.
It is the nuts, or seeds, of the jatropha that produce oil. The University of Florida states that one acre of jatropha plants can produce up to or more than 1,000 gallons of oil used to make biodiesel each year.
Unlike many other plants, Jatropha shrubs can grow in many types of soil conditions, including wastelands and saline soils, especially since its production is not intended for food. This makes it a valuable, environmentally friendly crop that makes use of otherwise unusable land. Jatropha curcas is a fast-growing species that germinates in nine days and produces its yield within three years.
Another benefit of growing Jatropha is its water conservation quality. Each shrub only requires a minimum of 10 inches of rain each year.
In Central and South America and the Caribbean, jatropha has been used as a medicine for both internal and external ailments. Its seeds or nuts have been used as a snack, and its leaves were cooked in meals, although it is regarded as poisonous. According to the University of Florida, jatropha is commonly planted with corn.
The cultivation of jatropha for biofuel on traditionally unusable lands will decrease the occurrence of deforestation, which often occurs to expand farming areas for edible and biodiesel crops.
Not a Food Source
Since it is not a food source, such as corn, the production of jatropha biodiesel will not decrease the availability of an existing food source that will also be used for energy.
Jatropha curcas are often planted to create a barrier that prevents animals from feeding on edible crops. Its roots help to prevent soil erosion from water and wind, particularly to combat desert expansion in Mali and other countries, according to the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Developing jatropha farms increase economic opportunities for rural communities in the area, particularly in Central America, Africa and Asia. These farms create jobs, and the byproducts from the jatropha biofuel production can be used to enrich local soils for food production.