With climate change in the forefront of everyone’s minds, Scientists continue to search for the just the right piece to insert into the intricate climate change solution puzzle. One such recent puzzle piece is “carbon farming”, and more specifically, carbon farming using the Jatropha Curcas plant/tree.
Although predominantly used to produce bio-diesel, the Jatropha Curcas tree is also being piloted for sequestering harmful carbon emissions from our atmosphere.
Aside from bio-diesel production, the by-product of Jatropha Curcas’ trans-esterification process can also be used to make a vast array of products such as: soap, toothpaste, cosmetics, high quality paper, energy pellets, cough medicine, embalming fluid, or used as a moisturizer in tobacco products, or to create a rich organic fertilizer, as well as to produce pipe joint cement.
Jatropha Curcas grows best on soil that is well drained, and has good aeration, and thrives best in temperatures averaging 20-28 degrees Celsius (68-85 degrees Fahrenheit). However, it is also extremely adaptable, and can survive in areas with marginal or low nutrient content soils. Botanists recommend Jatropha Curcas to be planted at a rate of 3,030 plants per hectare or (2.5 acres). Although it requires some water to survive (recommended 660 mm rainfall per year), it can easily withstand long periods of drought making it an ideal plant for coastal desert communities who have access to desalinated seawater sources. Even more impressive, is fact that the Jatropha Curcas plants themselves are capable of producing bioenergy (in the form of tree trimmings) which would support the power production needed to propel the desalination and irrigation systems.
A recent German study, by the new “Earth System Dynamics” suggests, that only “one hectare of Jatropha Curcas could capture up to 25 tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year, over a 20 year period.” They propose, that establishing a plantation in the Arabian Desert (using approximately 3% land space) could “absorb in a couple of decades, all the CO2 produced by motor vehicles in Germany over the same period.”
With proper management, one tonne of Jatropha Curcas seeds can also produce up to 600 litres of bio-diesel.
With these impressive claims, it is clear that there are numerous advantages to using Jatropha Curcas in carbon farming, and its overall use can yield great promise for the future. Harvesting and pruning machinery are readily available on the market, and the production costs seem to be competitive with other methods such as: carbon storage and capture techniques on the market today. So why then, do we not see countless Jatropha Curcas farms sprawling across the Arabian Desert? In part, it is lack of knowledge of this new technology, lack of long term study affects of such an undertaking, as well as lack of funding of CO2 sequestering projects of this kind.
Trees have played the primary role in the carbon filtering cycle for as long has man has walked the earth, and not only do they capture harmful carbon, and allow humans to breath oxygen, their cost is far less than using expensive geo-engineering techniques. Allowing nature to fix our environmental problems is always a wiser option to man- made attempts. After all, who understands nature better, than nature itself? However, before filling the Arabian Desert with Jatropha Curcas Carbon Farms, we must first assess its long term affects to the desert itself, before moving forward (as proposed by the Researchers involved in the Earth Systems Dynamics Study) (2013). Like with any new technology or invention, it is always prudent to look beyond the excitement of the initial benefits its bring, and ensure that it’s long term footprint on the planet, will also be a beneficial one as well.
Reference: K. Becker, V. Wulfmeyer, T. Berger, J. Gebel, W. Münch. Carbon farming in hot, dry coastal areas: an option for climate change mitigation. Earth System Dynamics, 2013; 4 (2): 237 DOI: 10.5194/esd-4-237-2013