D1 Oils, Abundant Biofuels report progress in jatropha development

By Susanne Retka Schill | August 19, 2009
Jatropha development is moving forward as Abundant Biofuels Corp. offers long term contracts and D1 Oils plc refocuses its business. Abundant Biofuels, based in Monterey, Calif., announced the availability of long-term, five to 10 year contracts to supply jatropha oil to U.S. refiners. "They could be slated to begin in 12 months to 18 months and for any quantity up to 35 million gallons, and we can expand from there," said CEO and Chairman Charles Fishel. Abundant Biofuel's first plantings to come into production are in northern Mindanao in the Philippines, where the company is working with local economic developers to reforest tribal lands. Fishel estimates that by 2012 Philippine jatropha production could reach several hundred million gallons. Abundant Biofuels has stated in its commitment to sustainable economic development and biofuels that it will not divert land from food production or use irrigation, and it will not permit deforestation. The company is also planting jatropha in Peru, the Dominican Republic and other developing nations. Fishel reports the company will potentially have access to 6 million acres of jatropha.

D1 Oils plc, based in the U.K., is reorganizing its jatropha development efforts to focus on plantings totaling about 540,000 acres in northeastern India, Malawi and Zambia where the crop has performed well and will be scalable, according to D1 Oils' spokesman Graham Prince. The reorganization follows the dissolution of a joint venture between BP Amoco plc and D1's planting operations. Prince said the dissolution of the joint venture reflects BP's decision to refocus its efforts. "They still remain interested in our concept, and will keep an option open to buy our stock in the future." While there were advantages in the partnership with BP, Prince said there was also a downside in "introducing another company with another set of management when tight cost control is so important."

Reintegrating the planting operations with D1's plant science division will allow the company to supply its technology to third parties, Prince added. The first of those agreements was announced at the same time as the dissolution of the joint venture. Under the five year agreement with Bedford Biofuels Inc., D1 will supply plant science and planting technology and services to the Alberta-based company that is developing commercial jatropha plantations in Kenya and Zambia for biodiesel production.

A recent study done at the University of Twente in the Netherlands called into question jatropha's viability as a sustainable biofuel crop, saying the plant's water footprint is greater than rapeseed or soy. Both Prince and Fishel said that has not been their experience, although they acknowledged that jatropha is not the miracle crop that initial euphoric reports indicated. Prince said D1 has learned more about the plant science in the past two or three years and moved away from areas where it won't thrive. While jatropha grows under a wide variety of conditions as a weed, Fishel said, its performance as a crop is dependent upon growing the right varieties in the right environment. Varieties well adapted to areas in the Philippines with good rainfall see yields of 380 gallons per acre, and Fishel expects plant science advancements will eventually more than triple those yields.

-Susanne Retka Schill

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