Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fuel For Fools?

YAIB (Yet Another Invasive Biofuel) might just have to become a recurring feature at the ISW: Green Energy News is pondering whether the Barbados nut (Jatropha curcas) might be our next big source of biodiesel. Oil extracted from the seeds of this species has been found to be a good source of fuel, and now plantations are being developed all over the world. The problem is, as it seems to be with most of the species targeted as biofuel, is that Barbados nut, native to the Caribbean, is a known invasive in several countries, including Australia, and its use in Western Australia is banned. Is this really a species we want to start planting all over the place? Kind of takes the "friendly" out of "environmentally friendly" fuel alternative, doesn't it?

Interested readers will want to check out this article in the American Chronicle, this one from the Kruger Times, and this one from Grain, and to ponder themselves why Jatropha is suddenly getting so much press?


Michael said...

I think the problem with Jatropha curcas is that in many ways it really is a good choice as a renewable energy source. It's easy to grow in poor soil and apparently most diesel engines will run on the extracted oil after simple filtering without any need for additional refinement. There are also uses for the waste after pressing, it's good for stabilizing soil, etc. - there are several good economic arguments for growing it. Unfortunately that easy-to-grow part makes it really likely to get out of control and become invasive, and the social costs of these kinds of choices often aren't apparent until long after it is too late to change courses.

Perhaps one way to handle the risk would be to make the grower responsible for eradicating any invasive plants within something like a fifty mile radius before receiving approval. Either the grower might not find the project so appealing, or else they would go ahead and have to take responsibility for cleaning up after themselves. I've often thought that including the social costs in the economic equation up front would bring a little more sanity to some of our societal decisions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for linking to Envirofuel Jennifer.

New information I have found on Jatropha curcas suggests that unless it is farmed on good soil using systematic farming methods, including fertilizer and irrigation, the yields don't live up to the hype.

You can read the information on which this comment is based at Good Jatropha information.