Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Great Jatropha Race

I have been foretelling from the very begining that Jatropha could become something better than coffee. Now we have within sort time Jatropha how fast and spread it has grown for biofuel.
With new research on environmental and biomedical benefits of Jatropha is appearing regularly, it’s no wonder that the race for patents is heating up, and fast.

Last year Mission New Energy began a joint venture with JOil Pte Ltd, whose major shareholders are Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory, Singapore; TATA Chemicals and Toyota Tsusho, heavy hitters all with biofuels production and feedstock breeding experience. Mission brought to the table its 194,000 acres of Jatropha Curcas under contract farming agreements in India, spread across five states and generating sustainable employment for some 140,000 previously impoverished farmers–the social mission that, along with its renewable energy mission, gives the company its name.

Then this February Bharat Renewable Energy Limited (BREL), a subsidiary of India’s second largest oil marketing company, Bharat Petroleum, announced a plan to develop new hybrids suited to specific growing conditions from SG Biofuels’ existing “JMAX” hybrid seeds. It plans to plant the resulting climate-specific hybrid seeds on 86,000 acres in five districts of Uttar Pradesh state: Kanpur, Jhansi, Laltpur, Chitrakoot and Sultanpur. In addition, it proposed to install 200 oil extraction units and 10 biorefineries in these areas. BREL’s partners are Indian biotech major Nandan Biomatrix and Shahpoorji Palonji, an India-based global construction company with connections to Tata Group and recent experience in biofuels investing.

What’s up? I hate to say I told you so, but I did: last year–and maybe the year before that too. Jatropha is climbing the value chain. First came Jatropha biodiesel for motor vehicles with no price premium over other feedstocks. Then Jatropha aviation fuel with a premium over most other feedstocks except Camellina and drop-in sythetics. And now comes biomedical Jatropha with no competition at all.

Only a few months ago the Indian Government’s Central Salt and Marine Minerals Research Institute discovered that Jatropha yields a substance ideal for making high strength,artificial blood vessels–the kind necessary in complicated cardiovascular surgery. Since then, CSMCRI has been busy filing patent applications for other high tech, high value Jatropha products. Both Mission and BREL now have their own biomedical subsidiaries as well, which is no surprise given that the meaning of the plant’s name, Jatropha, is “medicine.”