California-based SG-Biofuels is engineering a new breed of jatropha plants, a nonedible oilseed plant, for use in the Indian biofuel market. The venture is in cooperation with Bharat Petroleum, India's second largest petroleum company, and is intended to help achieve India's 20% renewable energy mandate.
California-based SG Biofuels (SGB) is working with a joint venture of India’s second largest petroleum company to develop and deploy elite hybrids of jatropha for use as biodiesel feedstock in India. SGB will be developing the strains for Bharat Renewable Energy Ltd (BREL), a joint venture of Bharat Petroleum.
“Our project with Bharat is aimed at developing high performance hybrid material that is adapted to growing conditions in India,” said Brian Brokowski, SGB’s vice president of communications. “We will use our genetic library and our genetic material and our variety of hybrids…to work with Bharat to develop, select and test the best performing hybrid varieties.” The program will also include the deployment of more than 86,000 acres of the crop.
“With the genetic diversity of their jatropha hybrid material combined with ability to produce large volumes of hybrid seed, SG Biofuels is an ideal partner to work with to successfully develop, validate and scale jatropha as the primary source for biodiesel in India,” said BREL CEO M.V. Radhakrishnan.
According to Brokowski, SGB anticipates the project will be fully deployed within the next three to five years. “We have research centers in place in India, where we are doing that work, but that’s the anticipated timeline,” he said. “Deploying such a large project doesn’t happen overnight.”
“I think…this agreement is really reflective of the fact that energy companies like Bharat are really recognizing that success with jatropha requires an investment in crop science to develop high performance varieties,” Brokowski said. “In the past we’ve seen a lot of jatropha projects…not achieving their projected yields because they were using unimproved, undomesticated material.”
The government of India developed its National Policy on Biofuels 2009. The policy targets the use of a 20 percent renewable content in transportation fuel and stipulates the use of wastelands to cultivate nonedible oil seed plants. “Given the fact that there is a government requirement to use nonfood feedstock, jatropha is clearly the most preferred source for biodiesel because it is nonfood and it grows on more marginalized land that is not suitable for food production,” Brokowski said.
SGB is supplying jatropha seeds to several other clients as well. According to Brokowski, his company has secured orders for more than 250,000 acres of hybrid jatropha seeds to date.