Jatropha, an oil-producing shrub that could be a boon to biofuel efforts and the subject of much controversy, is once again making news. A recent statement issued by SanDiego-based SG Biofuels indicates that it has signed customers for the deployment of 250,000 acres of jatropha using its hybrid seeds.
Jatropha’s reputation has gone through a roller-coaster of events. Initially, it appeared that the plant could be one of the world’s top energy crops. It’s been said that, under optimum conditions, the plant’s seeds can yield up to 40% oil. Also, because it was believed to be a hearty plant capable of growing in less-than-ideal conditions, it was thought to be suitable for planting in locations that wouldn’t compete with food crops. It was later discovered, however, that jatropha required much more hydration than previously believed. That and other factors led oil titan BP to abandon a huge 220,000 hectares Jatropha project.
Then, just when it was beginning to look as if the door was being shut on shrub, Boeing piped up about a Yale University study it had commissioned that showed some of the weaknesses in previously attempted jatropha projects saying that proper cultivation of the plant, specifically seed engineering, was the answer to creating a jatropha plantation that could support biofuel production.
It now appears that SG Biofuels has created just such a seed which the company says, on average, provides double the yield of existing commercial varieties planted in similar conditions. SG also plans to deploy several development centers in multiple locations around the world where it will work to optimize its elite hybrid varieties of jatropha that are specifically adapted to suit the growing conditions of those locations.