Jatropha: the multi-purpose energy crop

Paul Boughton

Klaus Tropf explains why it makes much sense to invest in Jatropha cultivation and utilisation.

In 2013, mineral oil represented about one third of the global energy consumption. The burning of fossil fuels has a major share in global CO2 emissions. Currently, these emissions are estimated to amount to 34.5billion tonnes per year. By 2050, they are expected to reach 50 billion tonnes per year. These numbers, combined with rising prices and a shrinking availability of conventional oil, have led to a worldwide renewed interest in biofuels.

Jatropha plants have been identified to be a viable source of natural oil, which is perfectly suited to provide the renewable component of biodiesel and bio-kerosene. The production of biodiesel especially is estimated to almost triple from 21 billion litres per year today to about 61 billion litres per year in 2021.

The European aviation industry has set itself the goal of using a 10% quota of bio-kerosene in its total fuel consumption by 2025. In this context, aireg – the Aviation Initiative for Renewable Energy in Germany e.V. – has identified plant oils to be best suited for this task. This has even been demonstrated in dozens of test flights.

The prospects for biofuel production therefore look promising, and Jatropha is one of the most encouraging solutions to the challenges. Regrettably, due to throwbacks in early commercialisation projects, the plant has suffered from some loss of reputation. Harvesting yields have been disappointing, the agronomic management turned out to be more difficult than originally expected. And the toxicity of the plant’s fruit prohibited additional uses like livestock feeding.

However, the biofuels industry still remains confident about the huge potential of Jatropha plants and is continuing to invest into additional research and improvements of the involved processes and improving the plant’s genetics. After all, Jatropha plants still excel with their ability to grow on meagre soils and under limited moisture conditions. Above that, the US-american CAAFI (Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative) confirms that Jatropha achieves the highest Feedstock Readiness Level (FSRL) among all plant oils. This classification tracks and evaluates the development and availability of the raw materials required to produce alternative jet fuels.

Today, Jatropha experts, such as JatroSolutions GmbH, are convinced that many of Jatropha’s past failures can be explained with wrong conditions and assumptions. Much of the cultivation efforts have been made in areas, which turned out to be ultimately unsuitable for Jatropha growing like too dried-out soils. Also, some early attempts failed because they only relied on wild plants instead of cultivars. 

Today, knowledge has been established that Jatropha plants thrive well in tropical or sub-tropical climates as well as in low-elevated regions that provide a minimum of rainfall and a temperature optimum mean between 23°C and 26°C. In the last years JatroSolutions made considerable improvements of the agronomic processes and genetics of the plant, providing higher, as well as more consistent, yields.

Additionally, the company holds a patent on a method for detoxifying Jatropha seed cake, kernel meal and protein isolate. This is a widely tested method which has been upscaled to pilot plant dimensions, processing 60 kg batches. Now, JatroSolutions is actively looking for engineering partners to take the next step and implement up to industrial levels.

The detoxification method enables the production of nutritious Jatropha by-products that can be used as a high-protein supplement in feed for fish, shrimp, pig, poultry, cattle, sheep or other livestock species. The seed cakes, kernel meal and protein isolates have been found to provide a protein content even higher than soybean meal.

Other improvements to the Jatropha value chain are the production of bio-pesticides and cosmetic raw materials like soaps. Furthermore, shed-off leaves, branches and twigs as well as shells and seed coats of Jatropha plants are a source of biomass that can be used in the fabrication of bio-char, biogas, bio-ethanol and similar products.

Another important field of improvements concerns the quality and adaption of Jatropha seeds. Worldwide breeding efforts concentrated on adapting the seeds to particular needs of farmers; supporting a wider range of temperatures, improving yield numbers and consistency, increasing the oil content in seeds and the protein content in the seed cake.

JatroSolutions is one of the leading enterprises in Jatropha breeding. Under the brand name JatroSelect, it is dedicated to the domestication, breeding and seed production of Jatropha cultivars. In order to ensure authoritative field-testing of its cultivars, JatroSolutions operates 18 breeding stations and testing sites in Argentina, Cameroon, India, Madagascar and Paraguay.

The company is looking for engineering partners to upscale their patented detoxification method that allows for additional uses of the protein-rich Jatropha by-products.

Expert advice

Complementing its expertise in the development of Jatropha-based agronomic processes and its breeding activities, JatroSolutions also offers a broad spectrum of consulting services for farmers and investors. These cover biology, geology, fertilisation, plantation maintenance, harvesting and modern utilisation pathways as well as calculations of economic feasibility and strategic consulting concerning the capital market – all based on the practical findings of their breeding programmes and demonstration plantations.

For more information visit

Klaus Tropf is Managing Director of JatroSolutions, Stuttgart, Germany.

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