A potential for a new biofuel...Or not?



 The Jatropha bush, native to Central America, used to be known for its benefits with malaria and candle-making, as well as its lethal toxic coating and skin irritant qualities.  Now, the Jatropha bush poses a new energy from its oil and biomass. 

The Jatropha bush contains forty percent oil content, and the resulting biomass can be used to power electricity facilities.  On top of this, the Jatropha bush is a resilient plant, it can survive three years of drought, and can grow in almost any soil.  It also has the benefits of being a great erosion controller and carbon neutral even when it is burned.  The bush lives up to fifty years, producing oil after only one year of growth.  Jatropha seeds are extremely cheap too.  Enough saplings to fill one acre only costs about fifty British pounds.  With this in mind, the Jatropha bush is even more appealing considering that it produces ten times more fuel than corn, a crop that is much more expensive.  The article says that the plant can produce almost three tons of oil and almost 4 tons of biomass in just one acre.  According to the article, this means that for every eight thousand hectares, it can power a 1.5 megawatt station, or 2500 homes.  This looks like good numbers when taking into account the eleven million acres of potential land in India that could support this plant.  In fact, the first Jatropha fueled power station is expected to start working in three years in Swaziland.[1]

Biofuel Cycle for JatrophaCredit: http://tomoka-togo.com/img/jatropha11.jpg

Though using the Jatropha Bush has some very strong points, I think there are a few weaknesses. The Jatropha is called the “cure for the planet”.  I think it is way too early to tell and that nothing can be a cure for the planet if it is still going to push for an oil dependent nation.  Like any crop, it can do a fair amount of degradation from its large land usage and general growing.  However, this plant is better than most because it is so sturdy and resilient it requires little pesticides or other destructive items.  We should also take into account that twenty percent of the seeds planted will not grow and that is a significant percentage. We should also wait and observe the effects of using this plant to see if there are any unplanned effects on the environment, or if it is truly the godsend people believe.  Like biodiesel with corn, further studies suggested it was not as economical as they had previously predicted.  Innovative new crops like this also have a tendency to push out food crops, therefore affecting those areas dependent on subsistence farming in a very negative way.  Also, there is always the possibility of the Jatropha bush leaking out and becoming an invasive species on other environments.  Its resilience would spell disaster for controlling it and its growth rate would pose an even larger threat.  Furthermore, the Jatropha is highly toxic to both humans and animals.  Countries like Australia have remained cautious about this plant because of reasons like these.[1]

 I think an even better solution for the energy crisis is just trying to steer away from our overdependence on oil.  I think the Jatropha plant could be a good temporary solution, but I don’t think it will provide for long term goals.  Though it is almost impossible to pass policy for long term goals with American politics, I think it will be our only hope with a lot of environmental goals.  Perhaps if people start with small short term goals, like the Jatropha plant, it will give us enough time to redefine society enough to lessen our dependence on oil for our lifestyles.  It is innovative ideas like this that give our planet hope for a better and cleaner future.