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Page added on January 29, 2009

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The Next Big Biofuel?

Renewable energy, it turns out, does grow on trees. The fruit pods plucked from jatropha trees have seeds that produce clean-burning diesel fuel. But unlike corn and other biofuel sources, the jatropha doesn’t have to compete with food crops for arable land. Even in the worst of soils, it grows like weeds. Sound too good to be true? That’s why brothers Paul and Mark Dalton chose to name their Florida jatropha company My Dream Fuel.

If President Barack Obama’s green-energy rhetoric is on the level, this should be the year the U.S. gets clued in to what much of the rest of the world is already betting: that jatropha, like other nonfood sources such as algae, will revive a biofuels movement battered of late by charges that it diverts too many crops from too many mouths. India has set aside 100 million acres for jatropha and expects the oil to account for 20% of its diesel consumption by 2011. Australia, China, Brazil and Kenya have also embraced it. In December, a Boeing 747 was successfully test-flown by Air New Zealand using a 50-50 blend of jatropha and aviation fuel.

“This is a superior biodiesel,” says Roy Beckford, a University of Florida researcher and expert on sustainable farm development. He has been studying different varieties of jatropha and in February plans to publish his findings that trees like those the Daltons are growing (since 2006 they’ve planted 900,000 near Fort Myers) thrive so well in Florida that they may yield up to eight times as much oil as they do in places like India and Africa. That translates into as much as 1,600 gal. of diesel fuel per acre per year, vs. 200 gal. for stocks that grow in the wild.


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