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Good for farmers and ADM but little for the environment

Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) the largest producer of corn based ethanol motor fuel has joined with a Mercedes/Bayer team seeking to expand the use of jatropha biodiesel often referred to as a “miracle” fuel. ADM’s move is seen as a reflection to some degree of discontent with ethanol fuel’s impact on food prices and, as a feature primarily on ethanol fuel (“Green Dreams”) in the National Geographic put it in the October issue…..”Good for farmers and ADM but little for the environment”.

ADM spokesman David Winetraub recently confirmed his firm’s interest in jatropha and affiliation with partners Mercedes and Bayer. In addition to ethanol, ADM is a major factor in the production of biodiesel fuel made from current oil seeds(soybeans, for instance) which, like corn, are food crops whereas jatropha is non-edible and can use idle, marginal, and unproductive land. It requires little water and chemicals. This plus jatropha oil’s low cost and high yield are the basis for “miracle” status.

Jatropha cultivation is limited to areas that do not have frost or freezing conditions this, however, does not exclude vast areas in Africa, Asia and Central and South America with many tens of millions of available acres of land suitable for jatropha cultivation…

The India based Center for Jatropha Promotion explained that many countries with millions of starving and poor people can cultivate jatropha. The plant’s oil seeds can be processed locally into fuel thereby providing jobs and income while relieving the need to purchase expensive conventional diesel fuel with painfully scarce foreign exchange funds. It is also, of course, an exportable commodity.

A major factor in the development of jatropha biodiesel is BP Oil Co. which recently joined forces with the UK firm D1 Oils plc with initial plans to produce jatropha oil seeds from one million acres of land in various parts of the world. B1 Oils, a specialist in high yield seeds, recently contracted with KeyGene of the Netherlands, a global leader in the science of genetic fingerprinting. D1 Oils said KeyGene’s molecular genetics is expected to further dramatically increase yields from jatropha plants.

Currently available literature indicates that the fuel energy yields per acre from jatropha is 4 times greater that soybean oil biodiesel and 10 times greater than corn based ethanol. This dramatic difference may be further increased with genetic modification (GM) recognized for having improved many crops. The stigma in some areas attached to GM is not a factor with fuel.

Mercedes has run extensive testing of jatropha biodiesel fuel and reported normal operation of diesel engines road tested in India. The processing of Jatropha oil seeds into diesel fuel is said to be achieved at low cost in relatively simple facilities that can be close to jatropha growing regions.

D1 Oils spokesman, Graham Prince, said the firm expects to be able to supply jatropha biodiesel to the EU market at something around $2.00/gal before taxes, distribution and marketing expense, however, press reports indicate growing discontent with the degree to which double subsidies are being granted to producers of conventional biodiesel to combat low cost alternatives. This parallels the US protective tariff ($0.54/gal) on Brazilian sugar cane based ethanol exported to the US. Brazil is expected to be among the first countries to harvest and export jatropha product if not limited by protective tariffs.

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Fri. June 14th, 2024

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