Biodiesel: More Than Meets the Eye

In Haiti, it’s about soil and for some Chicago students, it’s about recognition
By Luke Geiver | May 12, 2011

Michelle Lacourciere, director of the Sirona Cares Foundation, a sister organization to California-based biodiesel producer Sirona Fuels, doesn’t believe that jatropha is some kind of magic bullet for biodiesel. But that hasn’t stopped her from visiting Haiti and her network of roughly 1,000 jatropha farmers every eight weeks. And although she does say that producing jatropha-based biodiesel from wild jatropha will “really blow their (the farmers) socks off,” her work reveals an often overlooked, but invaluable aspect of the biodiesel production process. Sometimes it’s not about the end result but, instead, a different aspect within the production process that makes all the time spent working on transesterification worth it.

Take it from Lacourciere who has firsthand experience of this idea. While she notes that jatropha may not be the best feedstock for biodiesel, she does add that “for Haiti,” and the country’s need for reforesting (92 percent of the country is deforested, she says), “it is really wonderful for holding the soil and adding value back to the soil, that is what they need at the very most.” The farmers have proven her sentiments as well. After the devastation of the earthquake, Lacourciere thought all planting efforts would be lost, but to her surprise, the farmers had already started planting only a short time after the disaster.

But it’s not just the farmers’ use of jatropha to solidify their soil that shows why every part of the production process matters. A group of students from a Chicago school won the regional President’s Environmental Youth Award for making a solar-powered biodiesel processor. They created the unit and then donated it to Haiti, gaining them recognition from the most powerful man in the world, the U.S. president.

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