Jatropha information file

Information compiled by Marcus Simmons


What is it?

  • A small tree from the Euphorbia family.Commonly known as the physic nut.
  • The Jatropha Curcas is the species people are often referring to.


  • Biodiesel : From the resulting jatropha seeds which when crushed produce jatropha oil.
  • NPK fertiliser from the press cake residue (containing nitrogen,phosphorous and potassium)
  • Biomass feedstock to power electricity plants again from press cake residue),
  • Products such as soap and candles.
  • Possibly medicine for constipation, fevers and malaria.


Grows on very poor soil, drought and pest resistant,

Yields seeds for over 50 years,

High oil content from the seeds.


  • Toxic, irritant,
  • Low and variable harvest,
  • Labour intensive (staggered ripening).
  • None of the Jatropha species have been properly domesticated and, as a result, its productivity is variable, and the long-term impact of its large-scale use on soil quality and the environment is unknown.


Jatropha is a genus of approximately 175 succulent plants, shrubs and trees, from the family Euphorbiaceae. Originating in the Caribbean, Jatropha was spread as a valuable hedge plant to Africa and Asia by Portuguese traders. The mature small trees bear separate male and female flowers, and do not grow very tall. As with many members of the family Euphorbiaceae, Jatropha contains compounds that are highly toxic. The hardy Jatropha is resistant to drought and pests, and produces seeds containing 27-40% oil [2] (average: 34.4% [3])

Goldman Sachs recently cited Jatropha curcas as one of the best candidates for future biodiesel production. However, despite its abundance and use as an oil and reclamation plant, none of the Jatropha species have been properly domesticated and, as a result, its productivity is variable, and the long-term impact of its large-scale use on soil quality and the environment is unknown.



Jatropha oil is vegetable oil produced from the seeds of the Jatropha curcas, a plant that can grow in marginal lands and common lands. Jatropha curcas grows almost anywhere, even on gravelly, sandy and saline soils. It can also thrive on the poorest stony soil and grow in the crevices of rocks. Because jatropha can grow in harsh climates, it can be planted in areas where it won't compete for resources needed to grow food

When jatropha seeds are crushed, the resulting jatropha oil can be processed to produce a high-quality biodiesel that can be used in a standard diesel car, while the residue (press cake) can also be processed and used as biomass feedstock to power electricity plants or used as fertilizer (it contains nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium).

The plant may yield more than four times as much fuel per hectare as soybean, and more than ten times that of maize (corn). A hectare of jatropha has been claimed to produce 1,892 litres of fuel. However, as it has not yet been domesticated or improved by plant breeders, yields are variable

Researchers at Daimler Chrysler Research explored the use of jatropha oil for automotive use, concluding that although jatropha oil as fuel "has not yet reached optimal quality, ... it already fulfills the EU norm for biodiesel quality".

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It has been used to make soap and candles, or as a remedy for constipation, high fevers and even malaria. Once dried out and crushed, these poisonous seeds yield oil which can be burned in almost any diesel engine - with no modification. ...will yield seeds for more than half a century.

It is also highly toxic. Just four seeds from its plum-sized fruit is enough to kill, while the milky sap from its bark can stain the skin and irritate it for days.

Energy giant BP has just announced it is investing almost £32m in a jatropha joint venture with UK biofuels firm D1 Oils.

Even jatropha's keenest supporters acknowledge that there remains much work to be done to find out which varieties of jatropha will thrive best in a whole range of climatic conditions.

But the most optimistic assessments suggest that one day, as much as half India's 63 million hectares of wasteland could be suitable for the plant. Already in India, 11 million hectares have been earmarked for jatropha growing. D1 Oils chairman Lord Oxburgh believes that jatropha will be part of this. When does he think we will be using jatropha biodiesel in our cars? "In two years," he says - just in time to meet the EU's target.

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But its nuts and leaves are toxic, requiring careful handling by farmers and at crushing plants, said experts at an oils and fats conference.

In addition, it is a labour-intensive crop as each fruit ripens at a different time and needs to be harvested separately. Its productivity is also low and has yet to be stabilised.

M. R. Chandran, adviser to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, told Reuters it would take five years of intensive research before jatropha could achieve productivity that would make its cultivation economically viable. The oil yield of the plant, originating in Africa and still largely a wild species, is less than 2 tonnes per hectare with large swings from year to year.

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Governments in India, Tanzania, Burma, Ghana and many other countries are promoting the conversion of vast areas of land to jatropha plantations. ..

Many plantings have failed and it has become clear that producing commercial yields does require fertile soil and sufficient water, contrary to claims which have been made.
Moreover, jatropha is an invasive weed and thus a major threat to biodiversity.

Lord Oxburgh, then of D1 Oils and now Chair of Blue NG, had originally promised that D1 Oils would commence commercial production of jatropha oil in 200724, yet by 2008 they were only producing very small quantities of 1,000 tonnes.

Nonetheless, jatropha expansion is already linked to the displacement of large numbers of communities, and the destruction of their livelihoods and food production.

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This is the story of how a Norwegian biofuel company took advantage of Africa’s traditional system of communal land ownership and current climate and economic pressure to claim and deforest large tracts of land in Kusawgu, Northern Ghana with the intention of creating “the largest jatropha plantation in the world”.

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The main biofuel crop now grown in southern Africa is jatropha.

Jatropha beans can be harvested three times a year and by-products can be used to make soap and even medicines. Refining is done in South Africa.

there is no evidence that, so far, those plantations have been linked to deforestation or ecosystem destruction in southern Africa.

Jatropha is an ideal plant to intercrop with food plants, in order to reduce soil erosion and improve overall yields, and it could well contribute to both [Malawi and Zambia's] energy needs. The oily beans could also be used for primary heat and energy production, reducing the need for charcoal in urban areas and thus relieving the pressure on forests.

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D1 Oils website has lots of interesting information, including about plant science and agronomy etc. This includes looking at extracting toxins from press cake to make a nutritious animal feed (they are patenting a process, but also looking at breeding out toxins).

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http://www.d1plc.com/pdf/d1_interim08.pdf interim report,
Working with the Scottish Agricultural College and Newcastle University, DOPSL has succeeded in identifying the relevant compounds, assessing theircharacteristics and developing a laboratory method to remove them