Jatropha biofuel - Project activities

The project works on six areas of intervention:

1. Evaluation of Jatropha productivity component

This component will evaluate the productivity of high-potential strains and varieties of Jatropha curcas under diverse agronomic regimes on Zamorano land in the Yeguare Valley of Central Honduras and at production sites with regional, private-sector partners.

2. Jatropha Germplasm Bank component

The creation of a Jatropha Germplasm Bank will create long-term research opportunities unique in the Americas. Although Jatropha curcas is native to Central America and Mexico, the plants currently employed internationally in Jatropha plantations are varieties that were exported from the New World centuries ago, and propagated on the island of Cabo Verde and in India. These varieties are thought to be more productive, but little is known about the biology and genetic diversity of Jatropha.

The Jatropha Germplasm Bank will serve as a permanent repository for collected samples of commercial and local accessions of Jatropha curcas. It will contain catalogued specimens of Jatropha from other seed collections through seed exchange, and regional accessions to be collected throughout the probable genetic centers of Jatropha in Central America.

3. First steps in the development of a local value chain for Jatropha seeds

Through interviews and observations in the field, Zamorano will study the incipient Jatropha value chain in the Yeguare Valley. By offering to purchase Jatropha seeds through a small number of communities, Zamorano will initiate the creation of a value chain for this oil crop. Proceeds from the production of biodiesel made from these seeds will be reinvested in the purchase of more seeds, sustaining the developing market for Jatropha. If the Jatropha market shows potential for growth, Zamorano will facilitate the creation of micro-businesses that function as seed collection centers throughout the region.

4. Promotion of a regional and international network for Jatropha research

In order to acquire a comprehensive set of agronomic and genetic data for Jatropha, this component will enhance Jatropha investigation by connecting these isolated research initiatives and creating a comprehensive network involving all value chain participants. Through extensive electronic communication and occasional trips to Jatropha projects in Brazil and other countries, Zamorano will be proactive in the promotion and organization of this network. Student thesis research will also be carried out with the collaboration of Jatropha plantations in the Honduran departments of Choluteca (AGROIPSA) and Yoro (Gota Verde), thereby including private sector initiatives in the research process.

5. Oil extraction and biodiesel production, quality, and storage stability research component

The construction of a complete biodiesel processing facility will allow the Biodiesel Production Research Program in Zamorano's Agro-Industry Department (AGI) to greatly expand the research opportunities it can offer its students. It will also complete a small-scale biodiesel value chain within the university, necessary for students to fully grasp the concept of biofuels. By actively transforming a measured area of oil seed crops into refined oil and subsequently to a known volume of fuel, students will better understand the amount of external energy required for the modern agricultural activities they carry out on a daily basis. An enhanced understanding of this energy dynamic will foster increased innovation in the management and conservation of energy in their future agriculture-related careers.

6. Biofuels education component

Zamorano already has a unique and time-tested methodology for offering its students an in-depth and practical agricultural education. In addition to a rigorous classroom and laboratory-based theoretical education, students spend half their time at Zamorano participating in the Learning-by-Doing program. Learning-by-Doing gives students hands-on experience managing each of 13 different agricultural enterprises during their university career. Students in their final year are also engaged in completing a senior research project. Professors have observed increasing interest by students in the area of renewable energy, and agronomic and agro-industrial studies of the Jatropha to biodiesel value chain will fulfill this increasing need for research topics.

All of Zamorano´s more than 1,000 students from 18 countries throughout Latin America will be exposed to the project, its challenges, and promises. Each of the four project components described above will be integrated into the Learning-by-Doing program. Additionally, the costs, profitability, markets and entrepreneurial development aspects of Jatropha will be analyzed by the approximately 70 third and fourth year students in the Agribusiness Management Department.