Brazilian sustainable jet biofuel plans boosted by promise of a new generation of jatropha hybrid crops
(photo: SG Biofuels)
Tue 5 Feb 2013 – Once touted as a wonder-crop that would become a staple feedstock for jet biofuels, jatropha suffered a fall from grace as yields failed to live up to overblown claims. However, California-based alternative energy crop company SG Biofuels (SGB) says it is developing advanced new hybrid versions that will enable the production of large volumes of sustainable plant oil and biomass at significantly lower costs. SGB has now signed agreements with two large Brazilian concerns that will see further development of the new-generation jatropha hybrids and lead to future production of sustainable biojet and biodiesel fuels in the country. The company has already deployed three research centres in Brazil, known as JMax Knowledge Centers, one of which is a multi-stakeholder initiative involving Airbus, JETBIO, Air BP, TAM Airlines, Bioventures Brasil and the Inter-American Development Bank.
SGB’s agreements are with Brazil’s state-owned agricultural research institution Embrapa and Fiagril, one of the country’s leading biodiesel refiners with revenues in excess of $1 billion per year.
The Fiagril agreement includes the establishment of a JMax Knowledge Center near its 200,000 tonne-capacity biodiesel plant in Mato Grosso. The centre is trialling SGB’s jatropha hybrids adapted to local growing conditions while establishing best agronomic practices to enable successful commercial deployment.
“Our agreements with Embrapa and Fiagril validate the market acceptance of our jatropha hybrids in Brazil and provide a strong platform from which to quickly expand commercial production,” said Kirk Haney, CEO of SGB.
Jatropha is one of the most promising energy crops for the production of oil for biodiesel and biojet fuel in Brazil, said Manoel Souza, General Director of Embrapa Agroenergy. “The first efforts to deploy the crop in Brazil were plagued by a lack of improved cultivars and insufficient technological expertise,” he added. “We’re confident that through our partnership with SGB we can quickly overcome those challenges.”
The crop is best grown in the tropical and subtropical areas of Central and South America, India, Africa and Southeast Asia with suitable amounts of rainfall. As it is capable of being grown on marginalised land, the crop is seen by the industry as not being in competition with food resources.
Following earlier project failures, a new era of jatropha cultivation, described by SGB as Jatropha 2.0, is driving significant advancements through breeding, biotechnology and agronomics, resulting in significant gains in productivity and profitability. SGB estimates that its elite hybrids can produce sustainable crude jatropha oil today for less than $99 per barrel – conventional Brent crude oil is now trading at around $117. This is due, says SGB, to a combination of low input costs – land use costs are between 10 and 20 per cent those for food crops, it claims – and increased yields through breeding and biotechnology.
Using its Crop Improvement Platform, SGB says it has established a four-year biological lead in the deployment of its elite hybrid varieties of jatropha compared to existing commercial material. Following trials in multiple locations around the world, the company says its robust growth, disease resistance hybrids are now exhibiting greater than 250% yield gain over standard commercial material.
The company is listed as one of the top five renewable jet fuel producers by the Carbon War Room.