Daimler AG has started a new project for the cultivation of the biodiesel raw material jatropha in the south of India; the seedlings for the first 100 hectares (250 acres) have been planted. The company is supporting several village communities in the state of Tamil Nadu with funds and expertise from its already successfully completed research projects. (Earlier post.)
Jatropha plants are cultivated and their seeds will be harvested in cooperation with farmers from these village communities. The seeds provide the basic raw material for biodiesel production. Only non-arable land that is no longer suitable and used for the cultivation of food crops is cultivated with jatropha plants. Thus, the jatropha fuel does not compete with local food production.
Daimler is ensuring financial support to the farmers in the communities over a period of five years by providing surety for small loans to buy jatropha seedlings and fulfill their tasks till the first harvest after four years. The income from the sale of the seeds, which Daimler ensures through a purchase guarantee, enables the loans to be paid back from the fifth year onwards. The loan repayments are collected in a revolving fund, which is used to grant loans to more farmers who decide to participate in the project.
A local project management facilitates close teamwork with the local cooperatives. This enables regular contact between Daimler and the smallholders and ensures sustainable agricultural development work in the communities. The project is also supported by the DEG (Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft). In addition, Daimler AG has been working for more than one year with Bayer CropScience AG towards further development of methods for sustainable cultivation of jatropha. As part of this cooperation, Bayer CropScience AG is also supporting the current project.
The Indian subsidiary of Bayer CropScience provides expertise and products from its portfolio for effective pest and disease control for jatropha plants. Experts from the company provide training to the project staff, who then pass the knowledge directly to the participating farmers.
During the five-year research project completed in 2007, Daimler AG demonstrated that jatropha is suitable for the production of high-quality biodiesel. The use of the fuel was tested successfully in test vehicles with modern common rail diesel engines from Mercedes-Benz. The biodiesel manufactured from the seeds of the jatropha seed has similar properties to fuels from other oilseeds. It also has a positive CO2 balance and offers an ecological advantage over fossil diesel fuels, particularly when the specific advantages of the plant are properly harnessed. For example, jatropha can be cultivated on non-arable, eroded soil, thus making a contribution to environmental protection without interfering with the food sources for the local people.