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What is Jatropha?
Jatropha Curacas is a tree producing an oil yielding nut. This oil in recent times has become a major source of feedstock for bio-diesel production. The increased popularity of Jatropha Curacas is because it can be grown in marginal land, arid regions with very less rainfall and on low grade soil. Jatropha cultivation uses land that hitherto was not usable for any agricultural.
India, Indonesia and China are the main proponent s of Jatropha in Asia. India has over One million hectares of Jatropha cultivation.
Jatropha is perennial tree that produces the nuts for a period of thirty to forty years after an initial gestation period of three to four years. This is unlike other vegetable oils like Soya or Rapeseed, which are annual crops. The nut and the kernel both yield oil.
Jatropha grows as a plantation in large stretches of dry land or as a live fence around existing agricultural lands.
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The Jatropha cultivation yields around Two Tons of Nuts from a Hectare land in a dry area. The yield can increase to around Ten Tons per Hectare in areas with good irrigation or high rainfall. Follow this link for more details: http://www.jatrophaworld.org/cropcultivation_20.html
Biodiesel production involves two stages.
- Production of raw oil either by pressing or solvent extraction from the seeds or kernel. The by-product is the oil cake, which is a fertilizer.
- Transesterification of the raw oil to yield bio diesel. The by- product is glycerol which has also a good market.
Bio diesel from Jatropha meets that specifications so that it can be used directly or mixed with petroleum diesel and used in ordinary diesel engines.
The economics of production depends on many factors, the key being the land use factor and the yield.
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Controversies of Jatropha.
With all its plus points, Jatropha cultivation is facing a lot of criticism from its antagonists.
- Even though this is a plant that can thrive on less water and poor soil conditions, the yield is less in these conditions. If water availability and richer soil is used the yield increases. As production and economic pressures increase, migration to better-irrigated land will affect the food supply chain.
- Because of the poisonous nature of the oil, use for edible purposes is restricted. In case of other oils like Soya, Palm or Rapeseed this can be alternated as an edible oil or biodiesel feed stock based on the market conditions.
- The long harvest cycle of Thirty to Forty years locks the land use. In case of a change in policy or other requirement s changing from Jatropha to other agricultural crops is a costly proposition.
- Jatropha harvesting is labour intensive and is ideally suitable for high population countries.
- Inter cropping is required to make it more economical to the farmers especially in the initial stages.
Use of marginal land can still outweigh all these controversies to make Jatropha a viable fuel alternative.