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Wonder weed plans fail to flourish

jatropha.JPGThis week in Nature you can read the first (subscription) of four articles unpicking the business of biofuels. First up is jatropha – the shrub that promised to give drought-ridden countries boundless oil supplies. The reality has turned out to be somewhat different. After a period of hype and over enthusiasm, investments have dried up, somewhat like the promise of oil from arid land.

Jatropha definitely still has a future, but the plant genetics really need to be better developed and a number of companies are now doing this, including London-based D1oils – a company which hit trouble earlier this year when a deal with oil giant BP fell through.

We also catch up with Pushpito Ghosh, director of India’s Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute. Nature first encountered Ghosh in 2007 when jatropha was still promising the Earth. His project seems to have benefited from a realistic approach from the start. Here we see a photo taken just last week at a CSMCRI plantation in Mahuda, Orissa. Each plant in this kind of harvest gives 1.75–2.25 kg of seeds, which have the oil extracted and the waste turned into briquettes.

The series continues next week with a look at bioalgae as a potential fuel source. After that comes cellulosic bioethanol, followed by the potential for a ‘green gasoline’ to be used as a simple drop-in-fuel replacement.

Katharine Sanderson

Image: CSMCRI

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