SG Biofuels grows jatropha in Latin, Central America

By Lisa Gibson
Posted May 14, 2009, at 8:00 a.m. CST

SG Biofuels, Encinitas, Calif., is growing Jatropha curcas in greenhouses and on plantations in Latin and Central America for biofuel and biodiesel production, while researching to develop strains that can sustain colder temperatures for growth in the U.S., according to the company.

The plant has been growing successfully in tropical and subtropical locations for years and has been cited as one of the best candidates for biodiesel production because of its high oil content-30 to 40 percent. "[Jatropha oil] is a very high-quality oil and serves as a great source for biofuel and biodiesel," said Brian Brokowski, director of media relations for SG Biofuels.

SG Biofuels research efforts include selection and breeding, and the company has generated hybrids among genetically distinct lines to address yield, cold tolerance and resistance to insect pests, according to the company.

Harvesting currently is done by hand because the fruit ripens at different times, but efforts are underway to harvest mechanically, Brokowski said. SG Biofuels distributes its jatropha oil to a growing list of biofuels producers. "We have a number of partners we're working with and some discussions going on as well," Brokowski said.

SG Biofuels has seen several benefits of the plant and its energy potential, according to Brokowski. While some energy crops can be competition for food crops, jatropha thrives on wasteland, grazed fields and abandoned farmland, eliminating that competition. Production costs are low relative to other feedstocks, he said, and jatropha also can help regenerate soil after years of planting. Sustainable jatropha feedstocks have half the carbon emissions of petroleum, according to the company.

SG Biofuels was established three years ago to grow and research jatropha and has established a team of researchers to manage genetic and breeding programs. Contract farmers manage the plantations, capable of yielding 200 to 300 gallons of oil per acre. SG Biofuels owns the plantation land, but declined to disclose the number of acres.

In April, the company announced the opening of its Jatropha Genetic Resource Center to advance profitable, large-scale production of jatropha as a low-cost sustainable feedstock for biofuel.