holds a jatropha plant and seeds that
could bring new agriculture to Barstow.
BARSTOW — Desmond Farrelly massaged a leaf of a young jatropha plant and talked about Barstow’s future.
Part of the 34th Assembly district Democratic nominee’s platform is developing alternative fuel sources and wean California off oil, and Farrelly thinks he found a winner in the obscure jatropha tree.
“I picked up seeds in South Asia 10 years ago, and who knew that it would be a need today,” he said. “This is the future of Barstow. This is the future of desert communities.”
Jatropha is a green, leafy tree that can grows in less than ideal soils around the world. Popular in tropical deserts in Mexico and Southeast Asia and China, the plant produces seeds that contain a high content of oil. When refined, the oil can be used a fuel, said Mark Hodson, a vice president of business development and investor relations at the Los Angeles-based biofuel firm Global Clean Energy. His company maintains about 5,000 acres of jatropha trees in the Yucatan region of Mexico.
“It’s certainly a fantastic fuel source,” Hodson said. “It’s a very tough plant.”
Domestic farming and use of jatropha is small, but the plant has been popular in India, China, Southeast Asia and South America for a while. Hodson said the plant requires little water, can sustain draughts, loves the sunlight and does not require a lot of nutrients to grow. Hodson’s company is looking to bring the crop into Southern California. Farrelly said it sounds like the perfect plant to weather Barstow’s conditions.
The only drawback, according to both, is that jatropha cannot withstand frequent frosts. The High Desert winters would spell trouble for the tree. However, Farrelly said his strain, grown on a farm in Stockton for about 10 years now, is frost resistant. Hodson said his coming is developing frost resistant strains as well.
In addition to producing a renewable fuel source, Farrelly is hoping jatropha can bolster Barstow’s economy. Growing the plant will produce jobs, processing and refining the oil will produce jobs and selling the fuel to trucks and trains will produce jobs, he said. Hodson, too, said the tree will bring jobs to areas where nothing could take seed.
30 to 40 years a jatropha tree can live
31% to 37% oil content in a jatropha seed
$42 to $45 cost of a barrel of refined jatropha biofuel
$102 cost of a barrel of oil as of Friday
Sources: Global Clean Energy, The Associated Press
Did you know?
A jatropha fruit, or nut, is inedible and toxic. Mark Hodson of Global Clean Energy said this means food crops will not be sacrificed for jatropha. Other jatropha experts, however, worry that processing jatropha could produce a toxic vapor harmful to workers.
Sources: Global Clean Energy, Reuters
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