Kate Mackenzie Jatropha may be a water hog

Jatropha, a biofuel crop favoured for its ability to grow in areas not suitable for food, may be about to become less popular.

A new Dutch study shows it uses 20,000 litres of water to produces one litre of jatropha biodiesel – more than the other crops used for biodiesel, rapeseed and soybean; and a lot more than ethanol crops such as maize (corn).

Furthermore, one of the study’s authors tells MIT Technology Review, “”The claim that jatropha doesn’t compete for water and land with food crops is complete nonsense.” There are a few other problems: It’s a wild crop and therefore difficult to cultivate: ‘a terrible harvest index’ says one expert. And cellulosic ethanol might be getting the jump on it.

There are some caveats: the study does point out that the jatropha figures were based only on crops in India, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Brazil, and Guatemala – whereas the other crops’ water use were averaged from around the world; and water use between countries can vary substantially.

BP and D1 Oils partnered on a jatropha biofuels project in 2007, and D1 is still optimistic, saying the EU biofuels mandate means demand will grow, and that cross-breeding strains of the plant could improve the yield.

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All washed up for Jatropha? (MIT Technology Review)