The University of Groningen will host a conference on Jatropha on 1 and 2 November. Experts from around the world will come to Groningen to discuss current research and use. Jatropha curcas produces a nutlike seed from which oil can be pressed that can be used for making biofuel. The plant is originally from Central America but can now be found in all tropical and subtropical regions.
Professor of Chemical Technology Erik Heeres of the University of Groningen will host the conference. His whole world now revolves around the plant. ‘It’s basically a weed’, he explains, ‘a kind of two to three-metre high shrub that grows in all sorts of places in the tropics and subtropics.’
In many countries, including Indonesia, companies and governments are busy setting up Jatropha plantations, while there are also many local initiatives to grow it on a smaller scale. Hopefully, the latter will lead to local economic activity and improved living conditions.
Jatropha has a number of significant advantages as a crop compared to the oil palm, which is now one of the major sources of biofuel. Unlike Jatropha, the oil palm can only grow in a humid tropical climate, which means in the same places as tropical rainforest. Growing Jatropha, on the other hand, doesn’t mean rainforest having to make way.
The conference will focus on the whole Jatropha chain – from seed to end product. Heeres: ‘Our goal is to find value in every bit of the plant. Its seed is thirty to forty percent oil and otherwise proteins and fibre. The fibre could perhaps be used in making wood panelling or reinforced plastics. The fruit containing the seed has a fair amount of sugars.’
Another possible benefit is medicinal use. The Dutch name ‘schijtnoot’ perhaps gives a clue to its heritage as a laxative, while the Australians, in a similar vein, call it the bellyache bush. Pharmacists are busy researching the possibilities.
One session of the conference will be fully devoted to opportunities for the regional economy. Heeres: ‘If either jatropha oil or the seeds become available on a wide scale, this could create new opportunities for businesses in the Northern Netherlands. It can be used to generate electricity, to make biofuel and possibly the protein content could be used in the animal feed industry. In that regard it’s important that those involved are aware of the specific properties of jatropha oil.’
School students of the Wessel Gansefoort College in Groningen will have a special lesson on jatropha seed and will then make biodiesel from it. ‘We should prepare them for the future,’ Heeres feels.
The research he and his colleagues in Wageningen and Indonesia are conducting is funded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).
More information: Prof. H.J. Heeres, tel. 050-363 4174, e-mail: h.j.heeres rug.nl
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