Information on jatropha and aviation

Some information on jatropha and aviation:


“Jatropha-fuelled plane touches down after successful test flight”

by Alok Jha, green technology correspondent

Guardian 30.12.2008  

The search for an environmentally friendly fuel for airplanes took a leap forward
today with the world’s first flight powered by a second-generation biofuel, derived
from plants that do not compete with food crops.

An Air New Zealand jumbo jet left Auckland just before midnight GMT with a 50-50 mix of jet fuel
and oil from jatropha trees in one of its four engines. The two-hour test flight,
which took the Boeing 747 over the Hauraki Gulf, showed that the jatropha biofuel
was suitable for use in airplanes without the need for any modifications of the
engines. It forms part of the airline’s plan to source 10% of its fuel from sustainable
sources by 2013.

“At an emotional level, it was an exciting day today,” said Air New Zealand’s
chief pilot, David Morgan, who was on the test flight. “We achieved everything
we wanted to achieve and it as a significant milestone for the aviation industry,
doing the very first jatropha-fuelled flight. We’re thrilled.”

The flight was completed as the US airline Continental announced its own plans
to test second-generation
biofuels: next week it will fly a plane over the Gulf of Mexico with fuel derived from

Air travel contributes 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and is one of the
fastest rising contributors to climate change, but the search for a greener alternative
to kerosene jet fuel has been problematic. Airlines cannot use standard first-generation
biofuels such as ethanol because these would freeze at high altitude. In addition,
environmentalists argue that manufacturing biofuels can produce more emissions
than they absorb when growing, and can also displace agricultural crops and push
up the price of food.

Air New Zealand’s biofuel was made from jatropha nuts, which are up to 40% oil,
harvested from trees grown on marginal land in India, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania.
The fuel was pre-tested to show that it was suitable for airplanes, freezing at
-47C and burning at 38C.

The flight included a series of tests to assess how the biofuel-powered engine
operated compared to the ones running on kerosene at different speeds and at different
stages of a normal flight. “The flight was notable for the lack of any surprises
– everything ran normally and as expected,” said Morgan. “The fuel was indistinguishable
from jet A1, a true drop-in fuel. You could not see a difference in the four engines.”

Continental’s forthcoming demonstration flight will use a mixture of jatropha-derived
biofuel and fuel made from algae, supplied by the San Diego company Sapphire Energy,
seen as leaders in the search to make useful oil from micro-organisms. In the
first commercial test flight of biofuels in the US, one of the engines on a Boeing
737-800 will be filled with a 50-50 mix of biofuel and traditional jet fuel.

“One of the reasons we chose algae and jatropha is that both are not food sources
and can be grown in arid regions and virtually anywhere,” said Leah Rayne, managing
director of global affairs at Continental. “So they do not compete with food crops
for water.”

She added that, although the jatropha and algae fuels did not require any modifications
to current aircraft engines, it would take several years of test flights for the
biofuels to be certified for general use by airlines.

Robin Oakley, head of Greenpeace UK’s climate change campaign, warned against overinterpreting
the results of the test flights. When Air New Zealand
announced its biofuel plans in November, he said: “We need a dose of realism here, because this test flight does not
mean an end to the use of kerosene in jet engines. The amount of jatropha that
would be needed to power the world’s entire aviation sector cannot be produced
in anything like a sustainable way, and even if large volumes could be grown,
planes are an incredibly wasteful way of using it.” Environmentalists argue that
curbing flights is the only true solution.

The Air New Zealand and Continental planes are not the first to use biofuels:
in February, Virgin Atlantic successfully tried a mixture of 80% jet fuel and 20% biofuel – made from coconut
oil and babassu palm oil – in one engine of a Boeing 747 on a flight between London
and Amsterdam.


Guardian letters      2.1.2009

Greenpeace is right to express reservations about the prospect of biofuels (of
whatever nature) making a significant contribution to air transport (Report, 31
December). The land area that would be needed would be immense. Despite claims
to the contrary, biofuels consume about as much energy to produce as they yield
when they are burned. It is therefore also disingenuous to suppose that non-food
crops are without impact on world food supplies.

David Alan Walker

Emeritus professor of photosynthesis, University of Sheffield


Guardian letters     1.1.2009

Bumpy take-off for aviation biofuel

In your article on the biofuel test flight (Jatropha-fuelled plane, 30 December),
you rightly covered environmentalists’ caution over biofuel. However, you also
seem remarkably trusting of Air
New Zealand‘s claims. You say: “The search for an environmentally friendly fuel for airplanes
took a leap forward today with the world’s first flight powered by a second-generation
biofuel, derived from plants that do not compete with food crops … harvested
from trees grown on marginal land in India, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania.”

There is nothing “second-generation” about jatropha, except that it is inedible;
the oil is lipids, as with other biodiesel feedstocks. Air NZ says it requires
that “the quality of the soil and climate is such that the land is not suitable
for the vast majority of food crops”. This could still mean that it has displaced
livestock or some hardier crops. Jatropha projects are acquiring a track record
of displacing existing farmsteads in Africa and south Asia, with improper treatment
of local farming communities.

This means that we do not know if substitution of kerosene fuel with jatropha
is helping find an environmentally friendly fuel at all, in view of the competition
it may be setting up with other land uses; or whether it is merely a distraction
from other more worthwhile directions to take.

Jim Roland



Quote by Philippine agricultural scientists:

First, jatropha can grow in marginal soils but growth and yield will also be
slow and marginal or low. There is a saying "you cannot get something from nothing!"  
Second, for us agriculturists, there is no land, which is unfit for food-crop
cultivation. Where jatropha grows, mangoes, cashew, siniguelas, duhat, jackfruit,
bignay and many other tropical fruits will grow. Moreover, cassava, sweet potato
and many legumes will also grow.Third, jatropha can survive dry weather but it
will shed off leaves as an adaptive measure, to avoid dying due to excessive loss
of water. But then, there is no growth and no fruit set. It will resume growth
once the soil is moist again.Fourth, jatropha grows well under a favorable environment
(high soil fertility, adequate moisture and weed management during its early years
of growth). But using these lands will compete with lands grown to food security
crops, which the proponents try to avoid. What are the latest observations? Fertilized
jatropha plants grow well when irrigated but they become vegetative. This means
that they do not yield the quantity of fruits that we expect.”

This is part of a long article by Professors Ted Mendoza, Oscar Zamora and Joven
Lales are on the Faculty of Crop Science, College of Agriculture, University of
the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna      at:



From the “Petroleum Conservation Research Association”   (India)

Jatropha is a drought resistant perennial growing shrub, non demanding, tolerant
to extremes, suitable to tropical and non tropical climate and considerable climatic
changes, even upto light frost. It grows considerably easily and lives producing
seeds for nearly 50 years.



The overall advantage of the system is that all the processing procedure and
the added value can be kept within the rural area or even within one village.
No centralized processing is required.


– A seedling will start yielding seeds after a year of its plantation

– It is planted 2m x 2m and 2500 plants can be grown in 1 hectare

– 20 % of the plants transferred from a nursery would need to be replaced taking
into account the usual rate of mortality of plantations

– Seeds have an oil content of 37%

– One esterification plant is required for 1000 ha Jatropha

– Jatropha Oil can be combusted as fuel without being refined.

– It burns with clear smoke free flame

– Tested successfully as fuel for simple diesel engine

– Jatropha can survive with minimum inputs and propagates easily

– Flowering occurs during the wet season and two flowering peaks are generally
seen. The seeds mature about three months after flowering.

– Oil extraction is almost 91%

– 1.05 Kg of oil is required to produce 1 kg of biodiesel


– 10 million hectares of waste land: 15 million tones of seeds yield (1.5 Tons/
Hectare) => 4.0 million tons of oil



In Industries for tanning, Candle making, soap manufacture, Chemical Industry
as varnish, Cosmetic Industry for different types of non-edible oils, Fertilizer,
Herbal applications.



Advantages of Jatropha:

Oil yield per hectare is among the highest of tree borne oil seeds. Seed production
ranges from about 0.4 tons per hectare per year to over 12 t/ha. There are reports
of getting oil yield as high as 50% from the seed.

It can be grown in areas of low rainfall (200mm per year ), on low fertility
marginal, fallow, waste and other lands such as along the canals, road railway
tracks, on borders of farmer’s field as boundary fence/ hedge in the arid / semiarid
areas and even on alkaline soils.

Jatropha is easy to be established in nurseries, grows relatively quickly and
is hardy.

Jatropha seeds are easy to collect as they are ready to be plucked before the
rainy season and as the plants are not very tall.

Being rich in nitrogen, the seed cake is an excellent sources of plant nutrients.


From Carbon Commentary:

Thursday 13 November 2008 in Newsletter #11 by Chris Goodall | 2 comments

Alok Jha of the Guardian wrote about Air New Zealand’s trial of jet fuel based
on jatropha berries here. This note looks at the percentage of the world’s land
area that would have to be devoted to the crop in order to provide for the total
needs of aviation, an industry that uses about 5% of the world’s oil.


Jatropha is a medium-sized tropical shrub that will grow on a wide variety of
soils including saline degraded land. Its berries contain about 40% oil which
can be used as a potential substitute for both diesel and kerosene. Its proponents
claim that because it will grow on poor tropical soil and can tolerate drought
and some frost it will not drive food crops off productive land.

Opponents of jatropha point to production data from field trials which show that
although the mature shrub will yield 2 tonnes per hectare on poor soils it will
give up to 12.5 tonnes in better conditions and where water and fertiliser are
applied. Their contention is that this yield difference will mean that large-scale
farming of jatropha will inevitably gravitate to good land on which food would
otherwise be grown.

How much land would be required to provide enough jatropha oil for the world’s
aviation fleet, if it is grown on poor quality land?

– Total demand for aviation kerosene – About 240 million tonnes per year (extrapolated
from OECD use)

– Jatropha berry yield     – 2 tonnes per hectare   (estimates from 0.4   to 12.5

– Oil content   – 40%   (could be a little lower or higher)

– Processing losses (estimate)     –   15%

– Therefore, Kerosene replacement per hectare   –   0.68 tonnes

– Number of hectares needed to replace kerosene   –   About 350 million hectares

– Percentages of world land area    

        Percentage of all land area   – About 2.5%

        Percentage of all arable land   – About 18%

        Percentage of all pastoral land – About 9%

So it is conceivably possible to grow enough jatropha to provide all the world’s
needs for aviation fuel. It would require the berry to be grown on about 2.5%
of all the globe’s land area. About 13% of the world’s area currently grows crops
and if jatropha were grown on this land, it would use almost one fifth of total
arable land. (Typical unirrigated yields would probably be substantially higher
– perhaps 4 tonnes per hectare – so this calculation is somewhat unfair. The percentage
of arable land used might be lower than 10%.)

Aviation fuel uses about 5% of the world’s oil so to replace the world’s entire
demand for crude would require almost all the world’s non-desert land to be devoted
to this single crop. This is not surprising – the energy we use from oil each
day is about twenty times the energy we use from food. So if we grow oil instead
of food, we would need twenty times as much land.


Greenpeace comment:

Hi Quentin   (Sept 2008)

We’re pretty much agreed on the devastating impacts biofuels can have – which
is why we don’t support the 10% biofuels target (even the government has serious
concerns about that one).

Given the rapacious demand of the aviation industry for fuel, it’s pretty unlikely
that there is a sustainable biofuel out there for the sector which can meaningfully
contribute to emissions reductions. Whichever biofuel the industry leaps on as
an apparently easy way to reduce emissions is likely to have a huge environmental
impact if used at scale.

(See the August New Scientist, which put the amount of productive area needed
to replace the 2007 consumption of jet fuel – 238 million tones – at about the
area of Ireland for biofuel from algae, three times the area of Germany for biofuel
from biomass or around twice the size of France for biofuel derived from Jatropha…).

Technological / efficiency improvements are unlikely to alter the upward trend
in emissions either; aviation is predicted to grow at such an exponential rate
that efficiency improvements or alternative fuels just won’t be able to make any
significant savings.

Because there are no sustainable low-carbon fuels available for aviation, the
industry has been lobbying to get aviation removed from many emissions reductions
targets and climate treaties (the climate change bill and international climate
treaties, for example). Whichever way you look at it though, the reality is that
aviation just needs to stop growing, which is why we campaign to stop expansion
and cap flights at their current levels.

On the renewables directive, the target includes all sectors. Because there’s
no realistic option for sustainable fuel for aviation, other sectors will need
to pick up the slack and increase the proportion of renewables in their sectors
– especially the electricity generating sector, which could practically and economically
produce vastly more than it does now from renewables by 2020. (The government’s
renewable energy strategy consultation assumes renewables will contribute 32 per
cent, but in this recent analysis (pdf) we see if offering more like 40 per cent
of the electricity generating sector by 2020).

If aviation was removed from the target though, it would be a disaster – as I
write in the blog. A precedent will be set where other member states could come
to plead their own special circumstances, asking for the removal of whichever
industry is the most polluting in their own countries.

Keeping it in the target reflects the urgent need to find solutions where they
can sustainably and safely be found, and that where those solutions aren’t forthcoming,
that the industry in question has to start limiting its own growth.

To summarise, the best thing your industry can do to tackle climate change is
to stop growing. Other sectors – where realistic renewable options are available
– need to ramp up the contribution of renewables.





Boeing to test biofuel on Air New Zealand flight – Aviation company to test biofuel next month using oil from jatropha trees

Guardian     13.11.2008
see also
Methods of Jatropha Oil Extraction
Oil Expellers for Jatropha Seeds
The Jatropha System
Aviation and biofuels lobbyists amongst ‘EU’s worst’ 21 Oct 2008