"BIODIESEL dramatically reduces potential risks of cancer and birth defects; it reduces serious air pollutants such as particulates, carbon monoxides, hydrocarbons, and air toxins."
That statement comes from a fact sheet circulated by the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development.
Biodiesel refers to a non-petroleum-based diesel fuel consisting of long-chain alkyl (methyl, propyl, or ethyl) esters. Biodiesel is made by chemically-reacting lipids, typically vegetable oil or animal fat, and alcohol. It can be used (alone, or blended with conventional petrodiesel) in unmodified diesel-engine vehicles.
Biodiesel is one of the two biofuels available in the Philippines; the other one is bioethanol. The latter can be produced from sugarcane, cassava, corn, sweet sorghum, and other starch and sugar-bearing crops, most of which are still under research and development.
Coconut is the most important source of biodiesel in the country.
However, biodiesel can also be derived from other plant oils like soybean, rapeseed, canola, sunflower, malunggay, jatropha, and palm oil. Experts called these as feedstocks or "organic sources of biomass used in the production of biofuels."
Due to the implementation of the Biofuels Act of 2006, there is no way Filipinos can avoid using biofuels. Republic Act 9367 mandates the use of indigenous renewable and sustainable energy sources to achieve energy independence from imported fuel sources.
Among the feedstocks available in the country, jatropha -- locally called tubang bakod (as it is commonly planted in fences for hedges), kasla, tubang silangan, tawa-tawa, and tuba-tuba -- has been given much importance by most experts and researchers.
In United Kingdom, an oil company has been producing biodiesel from jatropha oils. Its refinery can produce up to 8 million liters of biodiesel per year, equivalent to about 22,000 liters daily.
A study conducted by the Integrated Research and Training Center of the Technological University of the Philippines and Chemrez Technologies Inc. found that the properties of the jatropha biodiesel they produced were within the specifications in EN 14214 (European Biodiesel Standards) and ASTMD 6751 (American Biodiesel Standards). This means that oil extracted from local jatropha seeds can be converted to quality biodiesel.
In 2006, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the Department of Energy to widen the propagation of jatropha plants not only in military camps but in all available public lands.
An earlier study conducted by the Asian Development Bank found that six million hectares of land in the country are unfarmed. Additionally, 15 million hectares, or half of the country's territory, are denuded forests.
These idle lands are potential areas for jatropha plantation in the country.
Although not native to the Philippines, jatropha is popularly planted on fences or as hedges. Its bark and leaves are used to treat bone fractures while its sap possesses antibiotic properties.
Dr. Virgilio T. Villancio, program leader of the integrated research and development program on jatropha for biodiesel at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB), considers jatropha as a more viable biodiesel source than coconut, which has other high-valued food and oil uses.
Irrigated land can be planted with up to 2,500 jatropha plants per hectare, with a spacing of two meters by two meters. But on poor soil, and land dependent only on rainfall, the plants should be spaced further apart. A month or two before the start of rainy season is a good time to plant.
Jatropha can be propagated both by seeds or cuttings. The seeds can be planted directly. If seedlings are to be used, they must be two to three months grown in nurseries. The seedlings or cuttings are planted and then covered with soil on an up-hill manner to avoid erosion. The plants are watered for two weeks after transplanting.
According to Dr. Villancio, while jatropha plants may start bearing some fruit in six months, and harvesting may occur in the eighth month, it would still take three to four years for it to reach full productivity.
Jatropha can be grown on watershed basins and on low-fertility, marginal,
Degraded, fallow, and waste lands. It can grow outside of forestlands, along canals and railway tracks, and on borders of farmers’ fields.
Jatropha can be planted with other crops. Intercropping with annual crops is applicable in the first two years. On the second year, shade tolerant plants like sweet potato and turmeric can be planted in between rows.
Coconut and jatropha can be integrated into farming systems, following different planting configuration. For coconut plantation, allotted spaces are reserved for jatropha so that the other crop won’t affect the overall productivity and profitability of the farm.
Early this year, the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development came up with 150-page book, Jatropha Production and Processing Manual. It offers the basics of establishing and managing a jatropha plantation and answers the fundamental queries on jatropha propagation, harvesting, and processing.
In a study made by the Philippine Forest Corporation, it was found that 30 percent of the contents of jatropha nuts are oil. This is easily extracted from the nut by the use of a presser-expeller. The engine driven machine is simple enough to be operated by anyone in provinces. The yield is about one liter of oil for every three kilograms of seeds. The oil is then refined to produce biodiesel called jatropha methyl ester (JME).
JME diesel can fuel cooking stoves and power small-town generators, as well as farming equipment and vehicles like tractors and pumps that run on diesel engines.
"If diesel fuel from jatropha is produced in the rural areas for local consumption, just imagine how much you’re saving in terms of transportation costs alone," said Rafael L. Coscolluela, who was then vice chairman of the government-run National Biofuels Board when interviewed by the author.
A study conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources showed that a grower could earn P200,000 a hectare a year from the sale and processing of jatropha nuts.