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Researchers castigate planning bodies for ill-conceived Jatropha programs

The results of massive plantings of Jatropha worldwide for use as a biofuel feedstock—some 12.8 million ha (49,421 square miles) are expected to be planted by 2015—are “anything but encouraging”, according to Promode Kant from the Institute of Green Economy in India and Shuirong Wu of the Chinese Academy of Forestry.

In a Viewpoint published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, Kant and Wu suggest that what they call the “extraordinary collapse of Jatropha as a biofuel” appears to be due to “an extreme case of a well intentioned top down climate mitigation approach, undertaken without adequate preparation and ignoring conflict of interest, and adopted in good faith by other countries, gone awry bringing misery to millions of poorest people across the world”.

The current situation began in 2003 with the decision by the Planning Commission of India to introduce mandatory biofuel blending over increasingly larger parts of the country with a target of 30% by 2020. The Planning Commission pushed for Jatropha as it was considered to be high, early yielding, nonbrowsable and requiring little irrigation and even less management.

India encouraged millions of marginal farmers and landless people to plant Jatropha across India, Kant and Wu said. In 2006, China decided to meet 15% of its transportation energy needs by 2020 and, following India’s example, focused on Jatropha, with plans to raise it on more than 1 million ha of marginal lands. Other developing countries took similar measures, in the hope that the crop would provide enhanced income for farmers as well as renewable energy. By 2008, Jatropha had been planted on more than an estimated 900,000 ha, of which 85% was in Asia, 13% in Africa and the rest in Latin America.

According to the authors:

  • In India the provisions of mandatory blending could not be enforced as seed production fell far short of the expectation. A recent study has reported discontinuance by 85% of the Jatropha farmers.

  • China is seeing very little production of biodiesel from Jatropha seeds.

  • Research on Jatropha planting in Tanzania found the net present value of a five-year investment in Jatropha plantation was negative with a loss of US$ 65 per ha on lands with yields of 2 tons/ha of seeds and only slightly beneficial at US$9 per ha with yields of 3 tons when the average expected Jatropha seed yield on poor barren soils is only 1.7 to 2.2 tons/ha.

Jatropha, the authors note, was never considered economically important enough for domestication; as a result, seed and oil productivity is highly variable.

...its phenotypic, physiological, and biochemical variability expressed in flowering age, intensity, and frequency, and seed size and oil content, is largely an epigenetic response to the varied environment it encounters as the phenotypic plasticity of genetic traits allows morphological and physiological adjustments with the environ. But such epigenetic accommodation lowers plant efficiency which is also reflected in its lowered seed production capacity.

These observations are, however, nothing out of ordinary and should have been anticipated by the Planning Commission of India, the powerful apex body that decides national priorities and allocates funds for them, before taking up such a continent sized program involving millions of low income farmers. But the Commission may have relied too heavily on the opinion of one of its top functionaries, who expected an internal rate of return ranging from 19 to 28% across India. National planners’ enthusiasm for the species rubbed off easily on research organizations and Universities that rely heavily on the Planning Commission for funding and some of these institutions themselves became partners in raising Jatropha plantations.

It appears to be an extreme case of a well intentioned top down climate mitigation approach, undertaken without adequate preparation and ignoring conflict of interest, and adopted in good faith by other countries, gone awry bringing misery to millions of poorest people across the world. And it happened because the principle of “due diligence” before taking up large ventures was ignored everywhere. As climate mitigation and adaptation activities intensify attracting large investments there is danger of such lapses becoming more frequent unless “due diligence” is institutionalized and appropriate protocols developed to avoid conflict of interest of research organizations.

—Kant and Wu


  • Promode Kant, Shuirong Wu (2011) The Extraordinary Collapse of Jatropha as a Global Biofuel. Environmental Science & Technology Article ASAP doi: /10.1021/es201943v



The road to hell is paved with good intentions.


There are many visionaries that embrace "green" movements with little ability to discriminate between their own dreams and reality.

Not content with trying to attract investors, they move into government and spend other peoples money and make their dreams mandatory.

Like regulations requiring Jatropha planting or rebates for Gasohol. Private enterprise is not stupid, they will not do these things.
Well, sometimes - If the government pays them to.

Then, on the other hand we have big business.

"We need to move these crummy pick-ups, SUVs and G. guzzlers"

"Raise the price and make the people buy"

"We can't make them, and even less buy at higher prices - people compare and evaluate what we offer, and then choose".

"You mean we must constantly strive to provide the best value, month after month, year after year or our cars will sit in the showroom? - Sob, I think I'll run for some office. - But Wait - many people on GCC say we can brainwash the people into buying".

"Are you nuts? That's foolish; We need $50 billion in loans/invesment, and we need it soon".

"And just who would be stupid enough give or loan us ANY money?"

"The government."

"Really? Are they brainwashed?"

"No, they use other peoples money, it's like Monopoly to them."


ToppaTom: Don't forget that for decades the big 3 automakers cleverly used patriotism (massive American flags at dealerships) and non-stop dealer incentives to keep production volume high...allowing vehicle quality to be mediocre and some cases low. Now as a result of the auto bailout we have less patriotism, a little higher quality & fewer incentives, but now they're not selling very many cars --- Ford seems to be doing better than Chrysler and GM, but they took the lead in improving their products & product mix during the crisis and took very little if any bailout money. My point is the American carmakers still have a long way to go.


The American carmakers DO indeed still have a long way to go.

"cleverly used patriotism (massive American flags at dealerships) and non-stop dealer incentives to keep production volume high."
I don't remember that fron Business 101.

Is there no end to these fantasies?
Detroit built the cars that made sense (cheap gas) that people wanted, and that people bought (sales prove this).
The simple explanation - it should be your first choice.

Those who wanted small cars bought foreign because of lower labor costs, the value was better.

The SAME reason they did NOT but American toys, cameras, clothes, TVs, etc, etc.

It had little or nothing to do with brainwashing, patriotism or massive American flags at dealerships (like, that only worked for big CARS? Come ON).

It was value - period. But it was THEIR values – not necessarily yours or mine.

As soon as gas prices shot up Detroit was in trouble.
Simple - they have never been able to match foreign prices on small cars (or toys, cameras, clothes, TVs, etc, etc)

Someday you will have to accept the fact that most people DO like big gas hogs - and WILL and DO buy them when they are a "good value" (gas is cheap and CAFE does not intervene, and incentives do not make EVs more attractive, etc) regardless of what we might believe is “best”.


The USA's massive problems with balance of trade and consequent economic stagnation prove that macho, jingoistic or simply naive opinions of what is "best" in a vehicle lead to disaster (aka "unintended consequences").

Robert Rapier

I have been calling this one for years. I have a book chapter that should be out in a book next year challenging the economics and assumptions behind all the jatropha hype. You want to know which bubble will be the next to burst? Camelina:



ejj....very good observations.

TT.... is still off beat as the majority in USA..

RR...the next bubble is going to be ENERGY and its components.


We haven't been able to match foriegn prices on anything since Reagan started the fad of destroying the import tariffs and changing taxes and regulations about offshore manufacturing. Thus unprotecting the US's ability to compete in manufacturing in relatively environmentally safe ways. Instead we buy cheap crap from countries that pour limitless junk into the air, water. Now with the global economy we still can't compete even in the new Green Energy future. The new balanced budget mentality will cut into education, regulations and oversight capabilities and of course no new taxes to fund anything like lightrail or bullet trains or power infrastrucure. The Chinese will continue to eat our lunches.
As far as US car manufacturer bailouts, it would have led to a million or more direct and indirect (tire, electronic,paint manufacturers) jobs lost if GM went under.


The unbalanced mentality will pull the US down like Greece.

Wasteful stuff like lightrail and bullet trains and the proliferation of bloated government agencies will accelerate our descent into 3rd world country status where superior education will be a thing of the past.

Balancing the budget will be extremely difficult - but if we did, we would emerge on top again and our children would have a secure future – and learning the Chinese language would be an elective.

Expenses, NOT including Defense Agriculture etc
Social Security . . . . . . . $110Tn
&+ Medicaid
&+ Gov health . . . . . . . $280Tn
Total . . . . . $390Tn

Federal income
Personal Income tax, . .. ..$137Tn
Social Security . . . . . . . . $132Tn
Corporate tax . . . . . . . . . $ 29Tn
Other Taxes . . . . . . . . . . . $ 31Tn
Total. . . . . . . $329Tn

We are short way more than $60Tr (we have not even covered Defense, which IS in the constitution).

Guess from which special interest group Obama wants to buy votes – the AARP (they got federal funds and – surprise - supported ObamaCare and support the criminally excessive Medical above).

All the pigs at the various troughs want the gov to give away/spend MORE money - MORE:
Unions (auto - teacher - SEIU - etc)
Gov workers
Gov bureaucrats
Those who get (not pay) income tax
Unprofitable green industries

All the gov has to do is give away more money, to more groups, and get more votes before their (our) money dries up.

I am ashamed of but encouraged that Doyle and Biden think “We have negotiated with terrorists. This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.”


Tom Watson

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