The Potential of Jatropha Oil

Jatropha oil is a promising alternative fuel that could possibly provide energy in a large scale. Many factors point to jatropha oil’s favor. The oil is extracted from Jatropha curcas, which is drought-resistant and can grow virtually anywhere, including poor soil and small rock fissures. The plant produces seeds for up to forty years. Jatropha plants can be intercropped with other important plants, acting as a fertilizer and protecting them from livestock. Jatropha fruits have a high oil content of up to 40%, and up to 37% of the oil does not require it to be refined. The biofuel burns with a clear smokeless flame. [1]

The most widely used, general chemical reaction for the production of biodiesel from vegetable oils is:

Figure 1. Chemical reaction of biodiesel fuel. [2]

This process, called transesterification, is the most economical, has very little side reactions, and yields a high percentage of products. The alcohol used is mainly methanol or ethanol, and the catalyst used is mainly sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide.[2]

Like other biofuels, burning jatropha oil does not contribute to carbon dioxide emissions, because the plant will trap carbon dioxide as it escapes. Jatropha oil does not come with some of the typical drawbacks that other biofuels do, as well. The fuel will not directly threaten rain forests because of the plants’ adaptability and ability to grow in severely hot, dry weather, nor will the fuel affect food supplies. Jatropha leaves, which are edible, are not widely eaten, and the oil is poisonous. The cost of labor is cheap, and the cultivation of jatropha plants may help industrialize several poor countries, decrease the amount of poverty, and improve standards of living for many. Currently, jatropha oil is cultivated world-wide, and India could become the leading producer of diesel and energy independent, if its farmers realized the potential of cultivating biofuels.[3]

However, jatropha oil is not without disadvantages. Biodiesels are deemed as important renewable resources, so the construction of biofuel plantations is costly. There have also been instances in which the demand for biofuels has harmed the environment. New plantations have been created on rain forests and as a result, large amounts of carbon dioxide were released.

There is great potential that jatropha oil will be used to fuel transportation in the future. It has already been successfully developed to work in simple diesel engines. However, the viscous nature of the oil does not allow it to be safely used in certain types of engines for long periods of time. Countries are starting to experiment with different types of jatropha plants; they have already determined which seeds produce the most oil and which are the easiest to harvest. [4]

Besides producing biofuel, jatropha plants have numerous other uses. The leaves are eaten with goat meat, and sometimes they are pounded and used as a fly repellent for horses. The nuts and seeds from the plant are used as a contraceptive in South Sudan. Seeds are also used as a laxative in some African countries. Roots are burned and the ashes are used as salt. Oil extracts are also believed to cure cancer by some folk remedies.[5]

In my opinion, jatropha oil will be developed over the next fifty years to be an energy efficient, cost efficient fuel source for the world. Though gasoline will still be predominant in transportation and in industry, as the sources dwindle, more and more people will look toward using jatropha oil and other biofuels as the major alternative fuels. Though it could end up costing more, jatropha oil is cleaner for the environment and could be tremendously effective in transforming poor countries into economically prosperous nations. One agronomy director made the statement that jatropha oil is a “wonder crop that you can plant in the desert and harvest gold.” From my standpoint, it simply seems like the better choice.

1. http://www.jatrophabiodiesel.org

2. http://www.esru.strath.ac.uk/EandE/Web_sites/06-07/Biodiesel/biodiesel.htm

3. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy/Jatropha_curcas.html

4. http://w3.wtb.tue.nl/fileadmin/wtb/ct-pdfs/Master_Theses/EindverslagElkeRabe.pdf

5. http://www.reuk.co.uk/Jatropha-for-Biodiesel-Figures.htm

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