BP (who wants you to think they are Beyond Petroleum) had formed a joint venture in June 2007 with D1 Oils Plc meant to accelerate the planting of Jatropha curcas. This plant is a drought resistant inedible oilseed tree which does not compete with food crops, and is an excellent source of biodiesel. Jatropha being a non-food crop plays into the claims a couple years ago that demand for ethanol drove up food prices, inciting food riots in countries around the world and topping a couple governments. Clearly there is a large demand for “energy” in the form of liquid fuels, and those fuels currently come from fossil oil reserves. The use of fossil oil based fuel is damaging the environment, by increasing the carbon in the ecosphere, as well as geopolitical risks due to the location of fossil oil supplies.
Greening transportation through with biofuels is very tempting but it does create a competition between food, fuel, agriculture and more.
The joint venture between BP and D1 was to have involved investment by both of $160 million over five years. This included existing plantations in India, Southern Africa and South East Asia. It was expected to involve cultivation of 1 million hectares.
Jatropha was once thought to be a godsend plant. As a non-food crop it wouldn’t compete with regular agriculture and be immune to food price allegations. However it turns out Jatropha yields on marginal lands were, well, marginal. And that it required a lot of water.
BP’s Biofuels home page only lists a new joint venture announcement made in Feb 2009. This new venture is between BP and Verenium Corporation and is meant to develop and commercialize cellulosic ethanol from non-food feedstocks. The commitment is $45 million apiece and is intended to advance the development of a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Florida. Verenium’s technology results in almost complete conversion of all sugars in biomass. Their source material is “plant waste” which cannot be fermented by normal means. There is a consideration that the normal use of “plant waste” is for compost and other natural processes which act to build soil quality, and diversion of “plant waste” to other uses would prevent that “waste” from fulfilling its natural role of building soil.
Is it just a coincidence that the new joint venture also sources non-food resources for the resulting fuel?
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