SG Biofuels (earlier post) has identified several strains of cold tolerant Jatropha capable of thriving in climates previously thought to be outside of the crop’s preferred subtropical habitat. Utilizing the strains, the company has initiated a breeding program to develop Jatropha as an oil-producing crop in colder climates of the United States.
The strains are included among thousands of variations of Jatropha curcas the firm has collected from a range of climates and geographies around the world as part of its Genetic Resource Center, the world’s largest, most diverse collection of Jatropha genetic material. (Earlier post.)
While Jatropha is known to thrive in warm, tropical climates, its efficacy and yield in colder regions has been considerably lower. We believe that we have located several strains that can make Jatropha a viable oil-producing crop in a much broader range of climates here in the United States.—Kirk Haney, President and CEO SG Biofuels
The strains were collected from various sites in Central America at elevations ranging from 1,600 meters (5,200 feet) to more than 1,800 meters (about 6,000 feet), where the average daily low temperature between December and February are typically around 45 °F (7 °C), and nightly temperatures can fall well below freezing.
We typically see Jatropha thriving in climates where the average minimum temperature is about 60 degrees or more during those coldest months of the year. To find a collection of strains that thrive at higher elevations with considerably lower temperatures provides us with a tremendous opportunity to utilize these naturally cold adapted ecotypes to breed new varieties that will perform well in colder climates.—Dr. Robert Schmidt, chief scientist for SG Biofuels
Jatropha curcas is a non-edible shrub that is native to Central America. Its seeds contain high amounts of oil that can be used for a variety of bio-based materials including biodiesel and feedstock substitutes for the petrochemical and jet fuel industries. It can be effectively grown on abandoned lands that are unsuitable for other crops, but its effective growing range has been limited by its lack of tolerance for freezing temperatures.
With proper site selection and agronomic practices, oil yields of 200-300 gallons of extractable oil per acre are realistic today, according to SG Biofuels. In addition, Jatropha has very-low input costs relative to other biofuel feedstocks, which makes Jatropha profitable with current yields.