Turning weeds into renewable fuel

| Thursday, May 10, 2007

As more and more American farmers plant corn and soybeans to boost the renewable fuel industry, other parts of the world are beginning to cultivate another kind of plant for biodiesel production.

It’s called jatropha, and it’s basically a weed. But seeds of the jatropha plant produce oil that can be converted into biodiesel through a relatively simple refining process.

Jatropha is not fit for human consumption. That could boost the fuel demand in Third World countries because it does not take food off the table, according to plant researcher Martin Mittelbach in a document published by the National Biodiesel Board.

“Because of its high productivity and poisonous compounds in the oil
seeds, jatropha is an ideal crop for industrial purposes,” Mittelbach wrote.

However, that doesn’t mean your truck will be running on jatropha fuel anytime soon.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, further research about the plant is needed before the idea progresses and people invest in large plantations. A few smaller farms are springing up in some Asian and African countries.

The Monitor recently interviewed some plantation owners in India who are trying to make a go of it. Right now, they say it’s not profitable because there isn’t enough of it around.

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