Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On Monday(10 March '08) Karl Watkin announced his resignation from D1 Oils, the UK company that was promoting jatropha (photo above) as a biofuel. Jatropha had been the hope of many, and world leaders, including Bill Clinton, had backed it. 250,000 jobs had been created as part of the emerging jatropha industry, and jatropha plantations had sprung up from India to Africa.
All this was not without controversy, as some claimed that this plant poisoned the environment. While I am not sure about this, it is certain that the debate poisoned the investment climate and jatropha has suffered a setback. Watkin pointed out a number of parties as guilty of suppressing this plant, including commentator George Monbiot of the Guardian. A statement put out last month by D1 included Lord Oxburgh's assessment that Monbiot's views were 'absurd'. His lordship is correct, and statements on this very sight reflect much the same. One thing noted here was the way Monbiot and others talked about biofuels in such a way as to lump all together, even biodiesels with bioethanol. "This lack of differentiation," asserts Watkin, "combined with the London Stock Exchange's failure to address both the liquidity problems of [its junior market] Aim and the impact of shorting of illiquid stocks, have conspired to erode the value of D1."
Friends of the Earth also weighed in against jatropha, but then again it is not impossible FoE just bashes anything they are not getting funding for. Here in London they run around wearing environmentally desrtuctive cotton and using tree pulp paper. Any efforts to interest them in hemp has been a waste of time.
So is jatropha the next wonder crop? My answer is I do not know. There may be some legitimate complaints about it, and it may take more time to evaluate the equation. But would I put hemp forward here are the crop for biodiesel? No. Hemp can produce a good oil, but the fact is that hemp oil sells for much more in health food markets (retailing for £20 a litre), so it would be hard to get it at a cost that would work to the public. Hemp bioethanol, however, made from the stem, is very cost effective and tons of it can be produced from an acre in one season.
Jatropha does deserve real evaluation, not just slagoffs from journalists with an agenda, or competing organisations given too much space in the press. Hemp has its purposes, and other plants have their uses too. We support the cultivation of the best possible crops, including hemp, black salve, bamboo, jute, nettles, jatropha, etc.

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