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Philippine Star

Demand and Supply

By Boo Chanco

Jatropha: Too much hype on little known plant

I am getting a little nervous at the great amount of hype being
poured on jatropha by our government officials. I googled jatropha
and it seems the excitement over the bush is worldwide. But little is
known about the commercial possibilities of the plant because it had
not yet been grown and its nuts processed in a large scale basis.

I e-mailed an old associate who was head of our technical staff at
Petron when I was there during the 80s in an attempt to find out a
little more about the potentials of jatropha as an alternative fuel. He
confirmed the potentials of jatropha but cautioned that there are still
many issues to be resolved before it becomes an energy product of
commercial value as diesel fuel replacement.

Dodo Galindo should know. Now in retirement, he is still involved in
developing coco-diesel and during our time working together, he was
the technical guy on top of alcogas and the early attempts at coco-
diesel. Anyway, Dodo's comments about jatropha gained additional
credibility for me after I also came across the comments of a group
of Los Baños scientists on jatropha as published in a scientific
journal.

Here's what Dodo had to say: "Firstly, it contains a high degree of
unsaturated components, which means, its oxidation stability is
relatively low. Additionally, because of the lack of current local
harvests in commercial quantity, reliable data such as average
production per hectare for different regions in the Philippines is not
yet available. The oil's performance after its conversion to bio-diesel
is yet to be proven in long term tests and accepted by different
engine manufacturers. Even the Department of Energy announced it
had "stopped testing jatropha as feedstock for bio-fuels due to lack
of fuel samples."

Dodo wrote me that "in summary, jatropha is a future energy
product worthy of consideration, but unless all the major issues like
stability, engine performance, effect on engine emissions, etc. are
resolved, we should not rush into incorporating the product into our
energy mix. Otherwise, it may just end up like our coco-diesel and

" Anyway. Are the processing plants ready by that time?" Furthermore. and processing of byproducts (press cake and/or glycerol) into high- priced products be acquired soon. College of Agriculture. point out that jatropha becomes a viable source of biodiesel if diesel is retailed at P40 per liter.000 kg/ha and high oil content (34 percent and 38 percent) under Philippine conditions? No jatropha variety is grown in the Philippines that yields 34 percent oil. Professors Ted Mendoza." The scientists think "three or five years after planting jatropha is too short a time to expect commercialization. the price of biodiesel from jatropha becomes P152/liter [P140 + P12]. the message of the scientists to those who may have been enticed by government press releases to get in the jatropha . may be difficult to meet from what we know now." The Los Baños scientists. "Can we achieve a high yield of 36. on the other hand. And that estimate excludes processing and marketing costs. the scientists point out.000 kg/ha)." They surmise that at a low-yield level (12. and if byproducts are included and provide 50-percent additional income from the oil revenue. Current estimates put the processing cost at P12/liter.000 kilogram per hectare (ha). if the crop has a high fruit yield of 36. jatropha becomes profitable for farmers growing it if the diesel price increases to about P140 per liter at a 30-percent rate of oil extraction (revenue is from oil alone). the scientists say "it takes five years before some considerable quantity of jatropha seeds will be available throughout the country and 35 years before a real high yielding hybrid can be developed. UP Los Baños. Then. And contrary to the impression being made. Oscar Zamora and Joven Lales faculty members of Crop Science. if it has a high rate of oil extraction (34 percent and 38 percent). that all it takes is for government to jumpstart the planting of jatropha and the miracle product will be available in the market." the scientists say. Those are tough assumptions which. specially by Ate Glue in her SONAs.ethanol programs of the past and affect whatever good experience we have so far with our current bio-diesel program using coconut methyl ester. they say there is a need to quickly acquire the know-how "to accelerate the optimization of processing raw oil into trans-esterified oil before it can be used as bio-diesel oil. "The current laboratory oil extraction is in the range of 28 percent to 32 percent.

" While it is right to invest some money in finding out more about the plant. even government should perhaps review their numbers too and not get carried away by the fad-like enthusiasm for the plant. As it is.bandwagon is for them to review the numbers. should crunch their numbers well and proceed only with their eyes fully open to the possibility that jatropha may not live up to the hype. In fact. government is ready to invest billions of pesos in setting up plantations and processing plants probably without realizing that the promise of jatropha is still to be proven anywhere in the world. Hopefully. it is another thing altogether to throw money into it as if it is a proven thing. The folks at PNOC Alternative Fuels Corp. According to the New York Times. . "farmers in India are already expressing frustration that after being encouraged to plant huge swaths of the bush they have found no buyers for the seeds. As with any alternative fuel. jatropha lives up to its promise but hold the press releases and the enthusiastic endorsement of the President in her SONAs until we know more about it. its economics versus petroleum must be there before serious money is committed to its development.