By Hwaa Irfan
Jatropha curcas is the name of a castor oil plant that would have little meaning to us because it is not a food, or a commonly used medicinal plant. However, it is a plant that could play a significant role in global health if it was explored enough to challenge the plantations of Jatropha curcas being cultivated for the sole purpose of biofuels.
Jatropha curcas is a plant native to Africa, Asia, and South America, and has become naturalized in South Egypt. It is a low growing tree that produces seeds within a year, can keep on producing seeds for up to 5 years, the plant is useful for up to 50 years, the seeds produce 37% oil, the kernels 60% oil, and the seeds can yield 0.75 to 2 tons of biodiesel per hectare. If all eyes are on its production level at time when looking to turn a fast profit for a growing market despite being unsustainable then Jatropha curcas is the plant to process.
Jatropha curcas is one of those plants that can grow anywhere quite literally, no matter how poor the quality of the soil. In the winter months, the leaves shed to form a mulch around the plant which increases the activity of earth worms, the creatures that turn the soil improving soil fertility. In fact, Jatropha curcas is known for its ability to stop soil erosion, and to prevent the shifting of sane dunes.
The high saponification content of the oil has found its way into the production of soaps, and as a smokeless illuminate. Research by the Food and Agricultural Organization has shown that the alkaloid, jatrophine to contain anti-cancerous properties, and to be extremely beneficial for skin diseases, rheumatism, and sores when applied to the skin of livestock. The twigs are good for cleaning the teeth, and the juice from the leaf is good when applied externally to piles. The roots have been used an antidote for snake bites, and the bark as a dye. The FAO have also found that:
- Jatropha oil cake is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium and can be used as organic manure.
- The seeds are considered anthelimintic in Brazil, and the leaves are used for fumigating houses against bed-bugs.
- The ether extract shows antibiotic activity against Styphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli.
In Indonesia, the idea “Treat the jatropha plant as well as possible to make the harvest as large as possible!” was promoted as the oil was used to lubricate machinery for the Japanese WWII effort, and as well as for fuel.
Jatropha Oil as Biofuel
Sun Biofuels of Mozambique are boasting their first batch of 30 tonnes of unrefined Jatropha Oil from the province of Manica. Using 3,000 hectares, and only employing a 1,000 workers, a tonne on the international market goes for US$900 and US$950 although the company has yet to make revenue. Once exported, the real profit will be made, as Jatropha Oil is turned into a biosynthetic kerosene. Sun Biofuels is a subsidiary of the U.K.-based Sun Biofuels. This batch will be tested on Lufthansa planes, as burning of Jatropha oil requires no modification to engines.
It takes 100 kilos of Jatropha seeds to produce 35 liters of oil. In India, the average agriculturalist earns U.S.$40 per month when biodiesel is 16-20p per litre. Four hectares can be managed by 1 employee, while 1 hectare of Jatropha yields annually 25,000 Rupees/£300.
The residue from oil production could be used as fertilizer, feedstock and for fuel, skin friendly soap, but the soil erosion factor is compromised by the continual harvesting of the trees. Irrelevant to corporations Daniels Midland Company, Bayer CropScience and Daimler AG have been working jointly on Jatropha.
However, as easy as Jatropha is to grow, with changing climatic conditions, nothing can be guaranteed as Jatropha needs a minimum of 600 mm of rain annually to thrive, but can survive 3 years in a drought.
In fact, if Jatropha can be cultivated amongst cash crops, there is a greater argument for the mass plantation of Jatropha in famine hit regions, for the domestic consumption of the oil as cooking fuel, feedstock, veterinary medicine, and as biofuel for local consumption. Famine struck communities can also benefit from trade by producing organic skin friendly soap, antibacterial (especially as Jatropha is effective against Escherichia coli infection which is so prevalent in the west) and anti-cancerous medicines.
Mozambique: First Exports Of Bio-Fuels To European Markets http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v5/newsworld.php?id=603508
Reyadh, M. “The Cultivation Of Jatropha Curcas In Egypt.” http://www.fao.org/docrep/x5402e/x5402e11.htm