Brazilian jet biofuel ventures blossom as jatropha 'field to wing' platform adds a new international R&D partner
Fri 20 May 2011 – Global industrial crops technology company Quinvita is the latest to join a new biofuel alliance that has come together to produce sustainable jet biofuel from Brazilian-grown jatropha. The Brazilian Bio-Jetfuel Platform is a collaboration led by Curcas Diesel Brasil to form a jet biofuel value chain from ‘field to wing’ in the country. Quinvita will work with the platform’s partners on the deployment of its proprietary knowledge in jatropha agronomy and processing, and will test its advanced jatropha cultivars in selected locations in Brazil. Curcas Diesel Brazil played a key role in sourcing jatropha feedstocks for a demonstration flight undertaken last November by TAM Airlines on an Airbus A320. Since then, TAM and Airbus have formed a separate alliance with a Curcas breakaway company called Jet Bio, and are targeting a supply of 80,000 tonnes of jatropha-based jet fuel in 2013.
Quinvita has its origins in the science and technology R&D efforts of the troubled D1 Oils biodiesel publicly-listed company that had extensive international interests in jatropha curcas cultivation but investor problems and an aborted joint venture with BP has seen its early promise fade. Former D1 Oils management acquired the R&D activities to start Quinvita in 2010, taking with them an extensive knowledge base of jatropha genetics, agronomy and processing.
According to Quinvita CEO Henk Joos, jatropha oil has unique properties for conversion into jet biofuel and he said the Brazilian Bio-Jetfuel Platform would combine the entire value chain towards sustainable jet biofuels in one coordinated and streamlined effort.
The integrator of the platform is Mike Lu, the CEO of Curcas Diesel Brasil, which was founded six years ago to handle jatropha projects in the country. Lu is also President of the Brazilian Jatropha Producers Association (ABPPM), which, he explained, helped put together the Global Biojetfuel Platform.
“Together with the Jatropha Alliance, we are organising a global multi-feedstock platform to supply sustainable feedstock for the biojet fuel industry, since this is the major challenge for the successful implementation of the aviation industry’s carbon-neutral growth target,” he told GreenAir. “This is a triple A concept – Americas, Africa and Asia – to ensure guaranteed supplies of sustainable feedstock from the three continents.
“The Brazilian Bio-Jetfuel Platform is a collaborative action that will bring together the key stakeholders with a defined interest in the sector. The key objective is to address the agricultural challenge of providing sustainable feedstocks from key potential oil bearing plants in Brazil, such as jatropha, camelina, babassu and macauba.”
Jatropha’s potential as a ‘wonder crop’ has come under recent scrutiny. A report earlier in the year from Friends of the Earth International concluded that jatropha was neither a profitable nor a sustainable investment and there was evidence the crop was failing to deliver on its promises while simultaneously unable to prevent climate change or contribute to ‘pro-poor’ development.
FoE’s research revealed, it claimed, that investments in large-scale jatropha plantations were failing due to the crop’s poor performance, with increasing evidence of low yields on poor quality soils, and even good soil. The FoE report said BP’s pull out from its joint venture with D1 Oils was due to disappointing results.
Vincent Volckaert, Business Director of Belgium-based Quinvita, agrees there have been setbacks and over-hyped claims for the crop.
“Jatropha has long suffered from the ‘miracle crop’ syndrome, when a couple of years ago it was advertised as the plant that grows anywhere and delivers maximum returns. That was mostly false,” he said. “Many plantings carried during this period were done with wrong genetics in the wrong locations and with limited or no management.
“The sad story is that many plantations were planted in the wrong areas. India and Indonesia especially were very active and we now know that there are limited areas in these countries that are really suited to grow jatropha.
“Today, we have improved the genetics and we know much more where we should plant and how to manage the crop. We strongly believe jatropha can be sustainable and economically viable, as long as you adhere to the basic principles for the crop and do not expect miracles from it.”