InterviewJatropha not ‘magic bullet’ – Neste Oil

05 March 2009 13:32  [Source: ICIS news]

SINGAPORE (ICIS news)--The hardy jatropha plant, once heralded as the next big crop in the world of sustainable renewable energy due to its resilience and ability to thrive in traditionally non-arable land, will not be a panacea for the food versus fuels debate, a senior industry executive said on Thursday.

“I’m personally not so excited about jatropha [compared with the views of] other players,” said Jarmo Honkamaa, deputy CEO of Finnish oil refining company Neste Oil.

Jatropha, a plant native to central America, had been hailed as a potential replacement for current biodiesel feedstocks such as soybean, rapeseed and palm. While these energy crops compete on acreage with other agricultural commodities for food use, the toxic jatropha plant is reported to thrive in even marginal lands.

Neste runs a 170,000 tonne/year renewable diesel plant at Porvoo, Finland, and is in the process of building a 800,000 tonne/year facility in Jurong Island, Singapore.

“If it really becomes a success, then how can you keep it in the non-agricultural land?” Honkamaa said, pointing out that if the crop became commercially viable, farmers would eventually grow jatropha on arable acreage in order to maximise their profits.

Although Neste Oil was testing the use of some jatropha volumes at its Porvoo plant, the volumes were still too small to be significant, Honkamaa said, adding that the company would only make use of the feedstock if it made economical sense and if producers could guarantee its sustainability.

The upcoming plant located in Singapore would primarily run on palm oil, which could yield six tonnes of oil/hectare in a good plantation, Honkamaa said, although the company was also considering the use of other alternatives feedstocks such as animal fat.

In comparison, jatropha could only produce around 1-1.5 tonnes/hectare of vegetable oil, he said.

While the company would not rule out jatropha use in the future, Honkamaa added that there would be a long way to go before it could be commercially viable. The company would continue to invest in R&D in developing “the best jatropha species and to learn the ways to cultivate it,” he said, adding that while yields could improve, “it is not a magic bullet”.

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By: Jeremiah Chan
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