But growers soon realised that the wild bush yielded too few seeds to produce enough petroleum to be profitable.
Today, riding on advances in molecular genetics and DNA sequencing technology, a San Diego-based start-up called SG Biofuels (SGB) is using the plant seeds as biofuel, and strongly believes the seeds of this inedible, drought-resistant plants would produce high-quality oil that can be refined into low-carbon jet fuel or diesel fuel, said a New York Times report.
SGB has succeeded in growing jatropha in a very short span of time -- a process that once took decades, the report added. The company is growing hybrid strains of the plant that produce biofuel in quantities that it says are competitive with petroleum priced at $99 a barrel.
The firm has inked deals to plant 250,000 acres of jatropha in India, Brazil and other countries -- expected to eventually produce about 70 million gallons of fuel a year, the report added.
It is a good news for Indian companies too. The Rajasthan-based Centre for Jatropha Promotion and Biodiesel has been working towards scientific commercialisation of non-food biodiesel trees/crops like jatropha for years.
It has already identified 200 districts in 19 states to grow the "miracle plant" on the basis of availability of wasteland, rural poverty ratio, below poverty line census and agro-climatic conditions suitable for jatropha cultivation.
At SGB's greenhouse, a typical wild jatropha bush will produce a cluster of six to eight seed-bearing fruits. "We have examples in Guatemala where we have 60 fruits in a cluster," chief scientist Robert Schmidt was quoted as saying.
"It is one of the few biofuels that I think has the potential to supply a large fraction of the aviation fuel currently used today," Jim Rekoske, vice president for renewable energy and chemicals at Honeywell, a global technology leader in energy efficiency, was quoted as saying.
The drop in the cost of DNA sequencing has allowed SGB scientists to rapidly identify the most genetically diverse and productive plants and crossbreed them. It also lets them pinpoint profitable individual traits and mutations, like heat or cold resistance, the report added.
--IANS (Posted on 26-12-2013)