Jatropha R&D center planned for San Diego

By Erin Voegele | July 13, 2010
Posted Aug. 10, 2010

Bioenergy crop company SG Biofuels Inc. recently announced plans to establish a jatropha research and development center in San Diego. The center will include a 42,000 square-foot greenhouse, world class laboratory facilities and a team of molecular biologists. According to Brian Brokowski, SB Biofuels' vice president of marketing and communications, the facility is expected to be operational this fall.

The greenhouse will help accommodate the company's library of jatropha genetic material, which currently includes more than 6,000 unique genotypes and a vast array of jatropha genetic traits, including those for enhanced yield, soil adaptation and improved harvesting. "The foundation of any crop improve program´┐Żis having a diverse and extensive library of genetic material," Brokowski said. "We've developed the world's largest collection of jatropha material, and that collection has tremendous variety of traits and characteristics that are helping us to breed and develop stronger elite varieties of the crop."

Research at the new center will focus on combining advanced breeding with biotechnology applications. "Our San Diego center will allow us to continue our breeding efforts to breed the best and strongest traits into the jatropha and it will also provide us the opportunity to incorporate biotechnology," said Brokowski. We have a partnership with a San Diego company that is currently working to sequence the jatropha genome, he continued. "With the sequence of the jatropha genome we'll be able to even much more quickly identify and develop traits that improve jatropha," he said.

The San Diego center will also serve as a hub for a global network of crop improvement centers. According to Brokowski, SG Biofuels currently operates several centers in Central America, including one in Guatemala. "We are also developing a center right now in Hawaii and we are working to develop centers in a number of other locations, initially in Latin America, but also expanding beyond Latin America into other parts of the world where jatropha currently grows," Brokowski continued.

SG Biofuels released JMax 100, its first elite cultivar of jatropha, earlier this year. According to Brokowski, JMax 100 was developed though SG Biofuels' JMax platform and is optimized for growing conditions in Guatemala. "The projected yields are 100 percent greater than what we have seen with existing commercial varieties," he said.

We are focused on developing jatropha as a low-cost feedstock for biodiesel that is economically viable and profitable, said Brokowski. "Right now, with our first lead varieties of jatropha, we can produce crude jatropha oil for about $1.40 per gallon," he continued. "Though additional crop improvements, we are driving towards a production costs approaching $1 per gallon."
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