Jatropha: The most viable biodiesel feedstock
Manila (5 September) -- With the rising prices of fossil fuels, the state-owned Philippine National Oil Company – Alternative Fuels Corporation (PNOC-AFC) believes that there is a big potential that biofuels will emerge as a huge industry in the country. PNOC-AFC chose to initially focus on jatropha as its biodiesel feedstock.
"We target to develop a corridor from Cagayan de Oro to General Santos establishing Mindanao as our main hub for jatropha plantation development, considering the huge size of idle lands in these areas. However, we do not aim at making farmers shift their food crop production to jatropha. We want them to continue growing rice, sugar and others. What we intend to do is give farmers additional income by developing idle lands by planting jatropha," said PNOC-AFC President and CEO Peter Anthony A. Abaya.
"There are land areas which might be marginal but yet can be productive nonetheless for biofuel crops such as jatropha. There are niches for which biofuel crops can be explored," said Luis Rey I. Velasco of the University of the Philippines at Los Banos (UPLB).
Meantime, PNOC-AFC has already addressed issues and hesitations on jatropha as a biodiesel feedstock not only through its research initiatives with the UPLB but also via actual field tests in plantations in Talakag and Camp Kibaritan in Bukidnon, Barangays Lumbia and Pagatpat in Cagayan de Oro City, Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, and the Royal Green Energy Development Corporation in Palawan.
Results of Royal Green's experimentation showed that there has been a positive result on the viability of jatropha propagation particularly in Palawan and in Mindanao.
Based on Royal Green's research and experience, "the traditional cultivation practices in India and Africa are not suited to the climate and soil conditions in Palawan and Mindanao thus should not be compared at all. The Philippines has a higher annual rainfall compared with African nations and India. The average rainfall in Palawan is 2,600 millimeters (mm) compared with 600mm in India. In addition, the fertility of soil in Palawan and Mindanao are far better than that of India since most lands in India are quite dry, hot and red in color."
On arguments that jatropha was a failure in India after 30 years with only around one metric ton (MT) to three MT seed yield per hectare, Royal Green President and CEO Caesar R. Ventura said that the argument might be true in India due to its low 600mm average rainfall and low soil fertility.
"India actually utilized lands that no other plants or trees could thrive in…that is why they resorted to jatropha which can survive even without proper cultivation. But then, even without proper cultivation, jatropha can still yield an average of three tons per hectare in a year," said Ventura. "We agree with PNOC-AFC President and CEO Abaya that the Philippines jatrophas, by nature, are far superior in yield," he added.
According to UPLB Chancellor Velasco, "Yield levels of these biofuel crops at the moment may be quite low but this may be attributed to the marginal condition of the agro-ecosystem. However, if provided with appropriate management inputs, these yield levels can still be increased. Therefore, crop improvement and scientific crop management offer a very promising strategy in further increasing yield levels so that variation across ecosystems may be comparable."
The Modified Jatropha Technology was perfected after three years of extensive research and experimentation in the CRV Integrated Agricultural Center in Narra, Palawan. It will yield a minimum of 15 tons per hectare per year on the fifth year. The results of the research and experimentation include: a) Five jatropha varieties have been identified to have a higher yield and the seeds are heavier than the Indian variety. Jatropha seeds in Palawan have 1,325 pieces per kilo while Indian seeds have only 1,400 seeds per kilo; b) The right combination of organic materials to provide the right nutrients to induce flowering at an early stage of the tree was found; c) The multiple branching technique producing a minimum of 30 branches on the ninth month from the germination stage has been perfected. The actual recorded branches based on the existing Palawan jatropha plant have 240 branches; and d) The flowering is not seasonal but a whole year round with an interval rejuvination period in order to produce more flowers.
"The bottom line here is that you should study the character growth of jatropha. The principle is to give what jatropha wants and jatropha will also give you what you want," Ventura ended. (PIA-MMIO) [top]