Whatever Happened to Jatropha, and All Those Other Wonder Feedstocks? Part 2

As we begin to prepare for the annual Advanced Bioeconomy Feedstocks & Supply, we look at more ongoing activity in feedstocks. And don’t miss Part One, where we looked at Corn Stove, Bagasse, Wheat Stalks, and Biomass Sorghum.


Last June, Russ Gesch, a plant physiologist with the USDA Soil Conservation Research Lab in Morris, Minnesota, found encouraging results when growing Camelina sativa with soybeans in the Midwest. Camelina is a member of the mustard family and an emerging biofuel crop. It is well suited as a cover crop in the Midwest. “Finding any annual crop that will survive the [Midwest] winters is pretty difficult,” said Gesch, “but winter camelina does that and it has a short enough growing season to allow farmers to grow a second crop after it during the summer.”

In February 2015, Sustainable Oils won a first-of-its-kind feedstock-only pathway by the California Air Resources Board for the production of Camelina-based fuels under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The pathway, when combined with a specific processors production profile, will produce the lowest carbon intensity (CI) virgin oil-based fuel available in the marketplace. Camelina-based biodiesel at a CI of approximately 19 g/MJ can be produced at a fraction of soy- (83 g/MJ) or canola- (63 g/MJ) based biofuels. Camelina’s extremely low CI will allow obligated parties in California to meet their reduction targets using a fraction of the biofuel otherwise required. The pathway only applies to Sustainable Oils’ US Patent and Trademark Office-registered seed varieties — no other Camelina seed or oil can be used to produce LCFS compliant fuel. The feedstock-only CI is 7.58 g/MJ. When combined with ARB’s generic North American producer profile, the feedstock-only pathway produces biodiesel and renewable diesel at CIs of approximately 19.1 and 18.7, respectively.

Last August, Timothy Durrett, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, and collaborators at Michigan State University and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln modified Camelina sativa and produced the highest levels of modified seed lipids to date. By modifying the oilseed biochemistry in camelina, the researchers have achieved very high levels of an oil with reduced viscosity and improved cold temperature characteristics. The goal of the research is to alter oilseeds to produce large amounts of modified oil that can be used as improved biofuels or even industrial and food-related applications. The research recently appeared in the journal Industrial Crops and Products and on the front cover of the Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Forest Waste

In December, Boeing, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and SkyNRG, with support from Canada’s aviation industry and other stakeholders, highlighted their collaboration to turn leftover branches, sawdust and other forest-industry waste into sustainable aviation biofuel. Canada, which has extensive sustainably certified forests, has long used mill and forest residues to make wood pellets that are used to generate electricity. A consortium that includes Boeing, Air Canada, WestJet, Bombardier, research institutions and industry partners will assess whether forest waste could also be harnessed to produce sustainable aviation biofuel using thermochemical processing.


Last month, researchers in Botswana refused to give up on demonstrating the viability of jatropha despite suffering from frostbite, heat waves and hailstorms during the past four years. Indigenous plants morula, morama, and mongongo were included in the trials in addition to jatropha. The team of local and Japanese researchers have weathered through the disasters and developed various methods of the plants during harsh weather. This year, already 10 percent of the plants have fruit on them, compared to fruit only beginning to show in March last year. Hopes are for producing 25 liters of biodiesel from a one hectare trial plot this year.

Last September, the Chhattisgarh Biofuel Development Authority has already produced 150,000 liters of biodiesel from jatropha oil and is looking to expand production by sourcing the oil from farmers around the region. It has invested in the planting of 15 million saplings throughout the state. The project is among several biomass projects, including biopower that reached 249 MW of power as of March 31, 2015. The majority of the biomass power was produced from family-sized biogas plants as well as some industrial facilities.

The biggest potential, according to many, remains at SGB, which has developed elite, high-performing hybrids of its protein and oil crop. The hybrids provide higher yields and profitability in comparison to other oilseed crops. Among the accomplishments to date, SGB breeders have accelerated the normal time to maturity from 4-5 years to 1-2 years and increased yields by 10x. The company has been out of the news for some time, after announcing a $11 million Series C financing at the end of 2014 to drive commercial rollout, after reducing the time to maturity from 5 years to 1-2 years in its latest generation of Jatropha hybrids

Based on 100 acres of pre-commercial trials of its top 10 hybrids, SGB’s best performing hybrid to date eclipsed an equivalent of 300 gallons of oil per acre in year one with a corresponding protein production of 0.6 metric tons, surpassing protein yield of soybean by more than 30 percent. Total yield also includes 20 metric tons of green biomass per acre.

A white paper authored by Dr. Bob Schmidt, SGB’s chief scientist outlines how SGB has accomplished the domestication of a new crop species.



Coming up in Part Three of this feedstock overview, we’ll look at miscanthus, MSW and poplar.

This article was originally published in Biofuels Digest and was republished with permission.

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