Will a Small Nut Save the World?
Picture Credit: C Mulvany
I remember meeting with a research scientist last summer who’s background was biofuels and engineering. We talked about various feed stocks for biodiesel and when the topic came to Jatropha Curcas, he surprised me with the following statement: “Jatropha won’t make it because it seeds are poisonous.”
Even though the Jatropha seeds can kill, the flowers of Jatropha are beautiful and who would think such breath taking colors in a flower would yield such harm.
Picture Credit: Dreambird
Picture Credit: finolaprescott
Amidst this raging debate on the sustainability of biofuels, a second generation of feedstock has emerged – one that uses non-food crops. The jatropha plant, algae, wood mass from plant waste have been singled out as some promising “fuels of the future” as they don’t compete with food and can grow in hardy conditions or exist abundantly in other locations.
What a difference a few months make as Jatropha is getting large attention all over the world for making biodiesel especially in Burma or Myanmar, as called by the Military Junta.**** (Check out comment below).****
In Asia, many countries have particularly caught on the jatropha “fever”, with China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Myanmar planting its seed extensively in the hope of riding on the wave of this sunrise industry and Myanmar is becoming a real hot area for Jatropha production.
While biofuels is a key player in the world’s future energy mix – one that is renewable and can make our transport fuels cleaner, its development can also lead to deforestation as it competes with food crops for arable land if not managed sustainably.
But these feedstocks are also not without its risks. Most are relatively under-researched, and no one knows if full-scale commercial applications of using such feedstocks to make biofuel will be successful yet.
Myanmar is a country that has placed its hopes in the future by growing Jatropha Curcas. The following newspaper article is a day in the life of a Jatropha plantation in Myanmar as seen through the eyes of Jessica Cheams, a reporter for The Straits Times out of Singapore. This is a great article and worth while reading that gives great insight to the everyday operations of a Jatropha plantation and what is happening in Myanmar.
I went with my eyes wide open to visit the 100,000 acre estate at Maw Tin, in south Myanmar, to get a better understanding of how the industry and this particular feedstock works. The plantation was eco-friendly and completely self-sufficient. It had the hallmarks of Singaporean planning and efficiency, if I might say so. And not surprisingly, it had a Singapore connection.
****I was impressed to see the degree of planning involved in the plantation, especially how the way it was run sharply contrasted the reports from NGOs (non government organizations) that have surfaced on how the Myanmar government’s jatropha drive has backfired on itself.****
Organisations such as the Ethnic Community Development Forum allege that Myanmar’s junta have used forced labour or confiscated land in some locations. And has directed the entire nation of farmers to plant jatropha wherever they can, without fully understanding the climatic conditions needed to cultivate the plant successfully. See CG Post: Update on Jatropha Curcas, Item 5.
Will the Jatropha seed save the world? A lot of research dollars and actual growing Jatropha and producing biodiesel is taking place all over the world, even in Florida. Time will tell.
Read the Entire Article, Source: The Straits Times