Jatropha Plant May Produce Jet-A Bio-Fuel

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Poisonous seeds found in the nut of the jatropha plant contain 30% - 40% oil that may be refined at a significantly lower cost than crude oil and will soon supplement Jet-A to feed one of four engines powering an Air New Zealand 747 -- test flights are currently scheduled for November. Boeing, Air New Zealand, Rolls-Royce PLC, and agricultural experts in Hawaii are all part of the program. The plant apparently grows well in warm environments with little care (it's a weed), and with jet fuel prices up roughly 70 percent since one year ago the weed could soon be a popular site at every airline executive's vacation home. One hectare of jatropha can produce up to 500 gallons of fuel, which experts say is multiples better than a hectare of corn. Analysts predict jatropha fuel could be produced at about $43 per barrel (versus crude oil's roughly $125 per barrel) and without adverse effects on food supplies or farming (versus corn or sugarcane-based ethanol).

While several refineries are under construction in Africa to process the oil into biodiesel for automobiles, Kenya is working on a five-year biofuel industry development plan and India, China and Brazil have already planted millions of hectares of jatropha. Regardless, Air New Zealand will be getting its taste from an unnamed "hydro plant" in the U.S. The jatropha plant is one of many biofuel possibilities being feverishly researched along with synthetic fuels to address rising costs faced by fuel-dependent industries. We'll keep you posted.