Jatropha, a tropical plant from the Euphorbia family, is seen by the three cooperating partners as a promising alternative energy feedstock for the production of biodiesel. Biodiesel derived from Jatropha nut kernels has properties similar to those of biofuels obtained from oilseed rapes. It is also characterized by a positive CO2 balance and can thus contribute to protecting the climate.
In this project, the companies are seeking to develop production and quality standards for Jatropha-based biofuel. ADM is running several biodiesel refineries worldwide. Bayer CropScience plans to develop and register herbicides, soil insecticides and fungicides for disease and pest control of Jatropha plants. At the end of last year, Daimler AG completed a wide-ranging five-year research project which demonstrated that Jatropha can be used and cultivated to obtain high-quality biodiesel and studied the use of this fuel in test vehicles. The company will continue to explore the interactions between fuel and engine in vehicles powered by Jatropha biodiesel and mixtures of this and other fuels.
Dr. Peter Reimers, General Manager, European Oleo Chemicals at ADM says that by diversifying the world’s energy supplies, the companies increase global energy security and create for many nations the ability to produce fuel from local sources.
Dr. Rüdiger Scheitza, Member of Board of Management of Bayer CropScience and Head of Global Portfolio Management, added that energy is a fundamental and indivisible human need. Sustainable production of Jatropha without impacting food production is not only an interesting option on marginal areas. It might be a further essential key in renewable energy strategies of the future.
According to Prof. Dr. Herbert Kohler, Vice President Vehicle and Powertrain, Group Research and Advanced Engineering and Chief Environmental Officer of Daimler AG, Alternative fuels are an integral part of our roadmap towards sustainable mobility. Daimler's research activities within the last years have proven for example, that Jatropha biodiesel can be produced with quality similar to biodiesel from oil seeds. Now, it is time to evaluate the commercial potential of Jatropha biodiesel.”
Jatropha currently remains a "wild plant", and therefore it has never been professionally cultivated. Recent studies show a potential of approximately 30 million hectares of land on which this plant could be grown, especially in South America, Africa and in Asian countries such as China, India or Indonesia. Since Jatropha can be cultivated on barren land, it does not compete for land that is being used for food production, and thus provides farmers with an additional source of income.
Jatropha originates from Cental America, and was transported to Africa and Asia by Portuguese sailors on their voyages round the world. It is a hardy, drought tolerant plant and can be cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical regions, and even on degredaded soil. It requires very little water or fertilizer. The plant is an excellent source of renewable energy because its seeds contain more than 30 percent oil. Furthermore, it is excellent for preventing soil erosion caused by water and/or wind. Jatropha can be maintained economically for 30 to 40 years:
energy :: sustainability :: biomass :: bioenergy :: biofuels :: biodiesel :: jatropha :: plant breeding :: plant science :: biotechnology ::
Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) is the world leader in bioenergy and has a premier position in the agricultural processing value chain. ADM is one of the world’s largest processors of soybeans, corn, wheat and cocoa. ADM is a leading manufacturer of biodiesel, ethanol, soybean oil and meal, corn sweeteners, flour and other value-added food and feed ingredients. Headquartered in Decatur, Illinois, ADM has over 27,000 employees, more than 240 processing plants and net sales for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2007 of $44 billion.
The Bayer Group is a global enterprise with core competencies in the fields of health care, nutrition and high-tech materials. Bayer CropScience AG, a subsidiary of Bayer AG with annual sales of about EUR 5.7 billion (2006), is one of the world’s leading innovative crop science companies in the areas of crop protection, non-agricultural pest control, seeds and plant biotechnology. The company offers an outstanding range of products and extensive service backup for modern, sustainable agriculture and for non-agricultural applications. Bayer CropScience has a global workforce of about 17,900 and is represented in more than 120 countries.
Bayer CropScience earlier announced it was looking into researching Jatropha as part of its recent €750 million investment in bioeconomy-related science and technology (previous post).
Daimler AG can look back on a tradition that stretches back over more than a hundred years and is marked by the pioneering achievements of automotive engineering. Today, the company is a leading supplier of premium passenger cars as well as the world‘s largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles. With its strong brands and its comprehensive portfolio of automobiles from compact cars to heavy-duty engine trucks which are completed by tailor-made services along the automotive value chain, Daimler is active in nearly all countries in the world. With 271,486 employees, Daimler achieved revenues of € 47.2 billion in the first Half-Year 2007.
Other major players involved in Jatropha are D1Oils and BP who recently created a new company - D1-BP Fuel Crops Limited - to research and improve the crop. The joint venture will pour £80 million over five years into the project (previous post).
Boost and threat
Congratulations to all those who started looking at Jatropha years ago - their vision is being rewarded today. The anonymous researchers who started utilizing the crop's oil in diesel generators in Mali's poor rural areas, the environmentalists who taught small farmers how to make the most of the crop and its byproducts, the entrepreneurs and self-made men who tested the first jatropha biodiesel batches in cars - all of them deserve accolades.
With the growing interest from large companies into Jatropha, serious plant and agronomic research is now going to speed up. It is expected that modern breeding techniques and genomics will result in the emergence of high-yielding quality seeds and agronomic protocols relatively soon. This will benefit all those who are interested in growing the crop and could turn many developing country farmers into good fuel producers, securing an income.
However, it is not difficult to predict that genetically modified Jatropha seeds will appear on the market too. These will be owned by large agribusiness conglomerates who could easily come to dominate the market. All the problematic social and economic aspects that go with this must be taken into account: dependence on seed producers, a decline of local agricultural knowledge about the crop, questions about intellectual property and ownership of Jatropha varieties, and so on.
The boost the three major companies have just given to Jatropha could also imply large investments are now going to enter this crop - if ADM, Bayer and Daimler are in, the crop must have a good future - , with foreign capital securing large land areas and taking away the opportunities of smaller farmers.
In any case, the shrub is no longer a marginal player in the biofuels sector. It will become one of the leading feedstocks and, in the best case, it could open an era of rural development, energy security and poverty alleviation in the third world.
Bayer CropScience: Archer Daniels Midland Company, Bayer CropScience and Daimler to cooperate in Jatropha biodiesel project - January 9, 2007.
Biopact: Bayer CropScience to increase yearly R&D budget to €750 million to meet challenges of the bioeconomy - September 11, 2007
Biopact: D1 Oils and BP to establish global joint venture to plant jatropha - June 29, 2007
Biopact: Anthropological study explores the effects of genetically modified crops on developing countries - January 27, 2007