Monday, November 11, 2013

Carbon Farming with Jatropha by Elaine Lockey

photo courtesy of

There has been much recent press about the desert shrub Jatropha curcas and it's potential to soak up carbon monoxide emissions. A team of German scientists, publishing in the international science journal Earth System Dynamics, analyzed data from Jatropha plantations in several countries and found that approximately 2.5 acres of Jatropha can capture 17-25 tons of carbon monoxide per year, over a 20 year period. 

According to the study’s lead author, the plants can lower desert temperature by as much as 2 degrees Fahrenheit as well as increase rainfall in these regions. Scientific states that if the 1 billion hectares of suitable land was to be used for growing Jatropha, it would be "enough to offset the annual CO2 pollution of China, the U.S. and the E.U. combined."

This poisonous scrubby plant grows as a shrub or small tree and can handle low-nutrient soils. It can live for over 50 years and has not shown to be invasive. The benefit of growing Jatropha is that it grows well in the most arid of regions where it is difficult to farm for food.  Instead, it is grown for ‘carbon farming’. Ideally this plant would be grown in coastal regions where it can receive some minimal irrigation.  The cost of planting these plants if you use existing desalination devices would be more cost effective than higher-tech practices.

Native to Central America and planted around the world, it is used for biofuel, cosmetics, fertilizer, and more. The plant produces a seed that contains inedible pure oil which is used for biofuel.  About 1/3 of the seed’s mass is oil. Research has found that the better the growing conditions the more yields. This has increased the controversy of using this plant for this purpose as some countries have converted good farmland to growing Jatropha. 

There has been considerable hype and research in using Jatropha as a biofuel. It will be interesting to see what additional studies reveal on its benefit alternatively for carbon capture.