Jatropha has been a crop in and out of favor as a feedstock to produce advanced biofuels such as biodiesel and biojet fuel. One criticism of the crop is that it is difficult to produce sustainably. Mexican company Zphere Works is launching a project in the Mexican Yucatan to produce 30 million gallons of biojet and biodiesel fuel using jatropha grown by local farmers. Turf Feeding Systems has come on board to assist growers in learning how to grow the crop in a more sustainable manner that would protect soil and plant health and reduce water needs by 50 percent.
“We will create happy soil and plants that use 50% less water, fertilizer and little or no chemicals, while producing 50% more production,” said Michael Chaplinsky, president of Houston, Texas-based Turf Feeding Systems in regards to the goals of creating a sustainable method for growing jatropha. “We can grow more Jatropha on less land at a lower cost, which means you will need less land, less irrigation, less labor and the efficiency and savings will get better each year. We will create and start the soil engine to grow plants.”
Jack Katz, CEO of Zphere Works said the vision is to create the first truly sustainable project that embraces the most productive precision ag technologies, improves soil health and water efficiency and uses the least amount of land to meet the needs of producing 30 million gallons of biofuels per year.
The two companies have brought together an impressive team of outstanding team of agronomists, scientists, engineers, plant geneticists, arborists and soil biologists from around the world including Paul van Jaarsvelt, an agronomist, grower and livestock expert from South Africa. His expertise is crop design and management, as well as irrigation. He is bringing to the project a new, less expensive irrigation system that is more efficient and faster to install. He is also bringing inter-cropping, satellite pastures and livestock into the project to create additional profit centers. Chaplinsky added that the team also includes experts in soil biology and soil inoculants. The plantation will include a facility to brew special soil treatment products (biology) to feed the soil engine. This will reduce imports and costs.
Water in the Yucatan is plentiful; however, it will need to be treated for sodium by another technology with a special water treatment system. This system reduces sodium, makes water more efficient and does not use any chemicals.
“We want the project to become the first totally sustainable project in Mexico. It will include education and career development for the rural Mayan people and create the site as a habitat sanctuary,” said Chaplinsky. With this in mind, the company has also partnered with Audubon International to dedicate 5 percent of the plantation land as habitat pockets of native forests and grassland that the groups hopes will protect and repopulate Yucatan endangered species including the Mayan honeybee. Ultimately, the team hopes their project will be the most sustainable and efficient biofuel project in Mexico.