Jatropha biofuel - Central America

The Syngenta Foundation helped to evaluate Jatropha biodiesel as a potential driver of rural development

As the costs of the world's dependence on fossil fuels grow, biofuels become an increasingly interesting potential avenue for agricultural development. Our project in Honduras evaluates Jatropha curcas as a contributor to energy security and an additional source of farmers' income.

The development of biofuels, particularly Jatropha, from land that does not compete with food production can provide a source of energy security and diversify rural incomes. Jatropha grows well on marginal land.

The Foundation partnered on its biofuels project in Honduras with Zamorano Agricultural University and other regional organizations. The project included investigation of agronomy, crop management, the value chain, and Jatropha’s yield potential as a biofuel. It gave students from across Central America and the Caribbean hands-on experience in the rapidly developing field of renewable energy. The topic was the subject of numerous Bachelor theses and other planned publications.

Objectives and activities
The main objectives of the project were:

  • Evaluate a comprehensive set of agronomical issues related to the Jatropha curcas crop as a "non-food-competing" contributor to energy security and an additional income source for rural families.
  • Accelerate the use of renewable energy in developing countries by offering students from Latin America and the Caribbean hands-on experience with the rapidly-advancing theory and technology of renewable energy.

These objectives were to be achieved by:

  • establishing a Germplasm Bank for local and regional accessions of Jatropha curcas to support current and future research needs,
  • conducting a comprehensive set of medium-term agronomic trials on Jatropha curcas that will determine the most productive and economically feasible cultivation as well as its potential environmental and ecological impacts,
  • surveying Jatropha curcas distribution and local uses in central-western Honduras and establishing a local cropping and commercialization culture for this crop,
  • researching quality characteristics of biodiesel produced from Jatropha curcas seeds,
  • integrating Zamorano into the global Jatropha spp. research network along with partners in Brazil, India, the UK, the Netherlands, as well as regional initiatives in Honduras and neighboring countries.  

News and information:
In early 2014, Prof. Francisco Bueso presented his findings on jatropha oil quality analysis and biodiesel production at the annual meeting of the American Oil Chemists' Society (AOCS). 

The joint project with SFSA allowed Zamorano to establish a fully functional biodiesel extraction plant to investigate several methods for biodiesel production. The use of this extraction plant is not only restricted to biodiesel production from jatropha, but also other sources, such as oil palm, castor bean, Acrocomia, etc.

In addition, an analytics facility was installed to assess biodiesel quality – the only of its kind in Mesoamerica. This facility has already attracted external clients such as SGB Biofuels for biodiesel analytics. Operation to ASTM D6751 standards has enabled Zamorano to establish a teaching module that allows senior students from all majors to produce and evaluate the quality of biodiesel.

  • 2014 concluding report 
  • July 2015. In the Journal of Biological Engineering 
    project participants published an article on "Lipase-catalyzed biodiesel production and quality with Jatropha curcas oil: exploring its potential in Central America".
  • April 2016, An open-access paper on SpringerPlus, examined "Phorbol esters seed content and distribution in Latin American provenances of Jatropha curcas L.: potential for biopesticide, food and feed".