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Costa Rican Jatropha as Biofuel

The world's current reliance on fossil fuels has reached non-sustainable levels – experts project that oil levels will run out by 2050 – kicking the research and production of biofuels into high gear. Jatropha (Jatropha curcas), a succulent native to Costa Rica, is a biofuel wonder plant, and several national companies believe that it will be a major player in the world's switch to green diesel. 

Jatropha is a producer's dream crop, as it grows well in marginal soils, is drought and pest-resistant, matures quickly and even helps regenerate the soil. One of its major advantages is that it is high-yield, with each acre of jatropha producing four times more fuel than soybeans and ten times more fuel than corn. Additionally, jatropha yields quality oil that requires little refinement to meet international biofuel standards.

Jatropha begins to produce fruit approximately nine months after sprouting. The fruits are shelled mechanically, revealing seeds that contain 27-40% oil; just 2.5 acres of jatropha crop can produce up to 600 gallons of crude oil. Jatropha is also low waste: after extracting the oil, the remaining seed pulp, which contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, may be used to produce biogas or, more commonly, as a fertilizer.

Costa Rica's pledge to become carbon-neutral by 2021 hinges on reducing the nation's reliance on fossil fuels – and jatropha may be part of the solution. Already, several Costa Rican companies have entered the race to replace the country's fossil fuel needs with jatropha biodiesel, which is 100% compatible with traditional diesel engines. 

Global demand for biofuels is high, but sufficient supply has always been the stumbling block. Costa Rica's producers are confident that jatropha's high yield is part of the solution. At least two local companies, Green Acres and United Biofuels of America, have joined the Million Gallon Challenge, an initiative to produce at least one million gallons of jatropha biofuel per day. To reach their goal, each company will have to cultivate approximately 1,500,000 acres of jatropha; such large-scale production is projected to generate 200,000 new jobs. 

Tempate, a town just five miles inland from Flamingo Beach, is considered by many to be the birthplace of jatropha. The crop is native to the region, and historical records show that the town began exporting jatropha in the 1700's. Today, biofuel activists in Tempate have founded the Jatropha National Cooperative – its slogan is "I live green!" – to promote biofuel production and education. Twenty-five thousand acres of jatropha have been planted in the surrounding area, and Tempate has pledged not only to be Costa Rica's first carbon-neutral town, but also the first to have its economy based on green fuel and its byproducts.