Jatoil urges Australia to allow jatropha production

By Erin Voegele | June 17, 2008
Web exclusive posted July 9, 2008 at 12:45 p.m. CST

Australia-based Jatoil Ltd. is urging the Australian government to allow cultivation of the jatropha plant, which is currently banned as a weed in the country's northern regions. Jatoil is a green energy company that is focusing on using jatropha oil in biodiesel production. Jatoil's actions were spurred by the July 4 release of a draft of the Garnaut Climate Change Review, which was commissioned by Australia's Commonwealth, state and territory governments.

An independent study conducted by Australian National University professor Ross Garnaut, titled "The Garnaut Climate Change Review", examines the impact of climate change on the Australian economy and makes policy recommendations to improve the prospects for sustainable prosperity in the country.

According to Jatoil Chairman Mike Taverner, in order to meet the challenges outlined in the review, Australia needs to embrace sustainable energy production.

"Jatropha has been proven to be a great source of biofuel that can actually reduce green house gas emissions compared with fossil fuels," Taverner said. "It grows on arid, marginal land and does not compete with valuable food crops. The sad thing is that it can't be planted in many parts of this great dry land of ours, which is crying out for innovative ways of combating climate change, because it is seen to be an invasive weed."

Jatropha is an inedible evergreen shrub that is resistant to drought and pests and can be grown in arid conditions unsuitable for food production. Oil produced by the plant's seeds can be used to manufacture biodiesel, and can be harvested within the first year of planting.

"Biofuels are fundamental to a future climate-friendly, energy economy," Taverner said. "Jatropha can become a central source of biofuel. Jatropha is being grown on a commercial scale in other parts of the world and review of Australian regulations is required to explore and utilize this non-food energy resource."

Jatoil plans to become a leader in supplying jatropha-based biofuel to Asia. The company has signed a joint venture in Vietnam, as well as a similar arrangement in Indonesia, and is investigating opportunities in several other Asian countries.

Jatoil's venture in Vietnam has started planting 100 hectares (247 acres) of jatropha on its first biofuel farm in Ninh Thuan Province, north-east of Ho Chi Minh City. A similar biofuel farm in Hoa Binh Province will house laboratories in conjunction with Vietnamese government research departments. The company has also begun to form partnerships with farmer co-ops that will recruit farmers to plant jatropha on their own land, with the goal of producing jatropha on 10,000 hectares (24,711 acres) at each location.

"By October this year, we will be producing biofuel in Ninh Thuan," Taverner said. "We can then show people that jatropha can power their trucks and farm machinery. Once they see what can be done and that they can benefit from planting jatropha, we believe production will expand rapidly."

Within 18 months, Taverner said the company expects to be supplying jatropha-based biofuel for the local market in Vietnam which is keen to develop domestic supplies.

"We would really like to bring the skills that we are developing in Asia back to Australia, where we can see there is a crying need for the cultivation of a non-food crop that is a rich source of biofuel," Taverner added. "Although there would be different challenges to cropping jatropha in Australia, the opportunity surely requires investigation."
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