Boeing, Yale partner on landmark jatropha study

April 8, 2011 |

In Seattle, Boeing released research conducted by Yale University’s School of Environmental Studies showing significant potential for sustainable aviation fuel based on jatropha-curcas, an oil-producing, non-edible plant.

The study shows that, if cultivated properly, jatropha can deliver strong environmental and socioeconomic benefits in Latin America and greenhouse gas reductions of up to 60 percent when compared to petroleum-based jet fuel.

The Yale study used sustainability criteria developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels to assess actual farming conditions in Latin America. Unlike previous studies, which used theoretical inputs, the Yale team conducted extensive interviews with jatropha farmers and used field measurements to develop the first comprehensive sustainability analysis of actual projects.

The peer-reviewed data is applicable to similar conditions in Mexico and also provides guidance to Brazilian efforts to develop a commercial aviation biofuels market.  Jatropha projects studied included actual small- to large-scale farms ranging from under ten hectares to more than several thousand hectares. Yale researchers used a robust analytical framework to compare land conditions before and after jatropha cultivation.

Findings included:  Prior land-use as the most important factor driving greenhouse gas benefits of a jatropha jet fuel. If Jatropha is planted on land previously covered in forest, shrubs or native grasses, benefits may disappear altogether. If the crop is planted on land that was already cleared or degraded, then additional carbon is stored and emissions reductions can exceed the 60 percent baseline.

The second finding was that early jatropha projects suffered from a lack of developed seed strains, which led to poor crop yields. Advancing jatropha seed technology through private and government research is critical and many Latin American countries are now engaged in supporting such technology development.

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Category: Research

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