Jatropha 2.0

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The demise of investment in Jatropha was reported in a previous post in this blog in 2009. Amidst controversy over the water footprint of Jatropha (in which the crop was found to yield a poor energy return per unit of water) BP backed out of a $160 million joint venture with D1 oils to exploit Jatropha for biodiesel.  D1 oils have since admitted their own disappointment in Jatropha agronomy and announced a cutback in their operations, under the shadow of falling share prices, last September.

As predicted, research efforts in breeding and genetics continue, with the goal of producing elite hybrids of Jatropha driven by the growing demand for high quality biodiesel (particularly for aviation). A study by Sun et al. (2012), just published in Biotechnology for Biofuels, uses a genetic map of Jatropha to locate chromosomal regions that correlate with favorable growth and seed traits in an experimental cross. Molecular markers for these quantitative trait loci (QTL) will be used to assist genetic improvement by helping researchers to identify the best breeding stock.

A major investment in Jatropha breeding was also just announced by SG Biofuels, who are to open a genomics center in San Diego with a focus on shortening the breeding cycle. The company is also expanding its training initiatives in Brazil and India and starting a seed production facility in Guatemala.

Finally, a PR boost for biofuels this week came with news of some high profile flights, including a plane journey made by the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Secretary General, Raymond Benjamin. He travelled from the G20 meeting in Mexico City to the Rio +20 summit in São Paulo on a jet fueled, in part, by Jatropha.

Image credit: Sapphic, Wikipedia

  • Aditya Choukhany

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