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Jatropha curcasan alternative of renewable energy

Fazenda Tamanduá at BioFach América Latina 2006

Jatropha curcasan alternative for the generation of renewable energy in the semi-arid region of North-Eastern Brazil

Several factors, such as the instability of international oil prices, scarce world reserves of fossil fuels, and especially the growing emissions of polluting gases into the atmosphere, have aroused among the authorities interest in the search for renewable energy sources, especially those said to be ecologically correct. Within this context there is biodiesel oil, which, according to the Brazilian legislation, is a bio-fuel derived from renewable biomass for use in internal combustion engines with compression-based ignition; or, according to the regulations, for the generation of another type of energy that can partially or totally replace fossil fuels. In Brazil, certain plants, such as soy, sunflower and castor-bean, are more often thought of as sources of biomass for biodiesel production; and among them, the castor-bean has received special attention from the government and the research institutions.


Renewable energy generation should aim at achieving great environmental, economic and social benefits, at the global and, above all, local levels.

For about three years, Fazenda Tamanduá has been investing in research into the pinhão manso (Jatropha curcas) plant in the semi-arid region of North-Eastern Brazil, as an alternative to the castor-bean for biodiesel production.

Unlike the castor-bean, the pinhão manso is a perennial species, and therefore there is an assurance that the sequestration of atmospheric CO2 by the plants can used for carbon credits (carbon certificates).


Carbon credits constitute one of the flexibility devices made available to countries that have signed the Kyoto Protocol but do not succeed in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2%, between 2008 and 2012, in relation to the level registered in the year 1999. In addition to carbon fixation (sequestration), other forms of carbon certification are associated with the cultivation of pinhão manso: (1) production of charcoal from the husk of the fruit, and (2) extraction of oil from its seeds for biodiesel production.

Brazil may be one of the main beneficiaries of the carbon credit market, which currently trade futures contracts in several countries of the world. According to the World Bank, the country’s expected participation in the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) market will amount to 10%, which represents something like US$ 1.3 billion in 2007. Other environmental benefits are involved in the cultivation of pinhão manso, and among those of greater impact is the reforestation of areas of caatinga vegetation destroyed by the indiscriminate use of its resources for the production of charcoal. In this scenario, the pinhão manso will also be fundamental as a source of biomass for replenishing the levels of organic matter in the soil, and to minimize the frequent problems caused by erosion in that region.


Together with the environmental benefits generated by the production of biodiesel, based on oil-bearing plants, there is a broad range of activities with immediate social and economic effects, such as the creation of jobs and income and the stimulus to entrepreneurial and family farming – which are decisive factors for the inclusion of a significant number of both rural and city workers in the social structures – and regional development. Studies carried out by government entities show that the replacement of 1% of diesel oil by biodiesel produced with the participation of family farms can generate 45,000 direct jobs, with an average annual income of R$ 4,900.00 each. It is estimated that in the semi-arid region of the North-East there is a population of 2,000,000 families with extremely poor living conditions.   


Planting and maintenance costs for pinhão manso are low, as it is a perennial species and has a rapid harvesting cycle. Additionally, the fact that pinhão manso plants have roots that store water may be seen as an important component for adaptation to the climate conditions of the semi-arid region of North-Eastern Brazil, and characterizes it as a pioneering species. The Jatropha curcas L., commonly called “pinhão manso” in practically the whole of Brazil, is a species of deciduous plant that probably originated in South America (semi-arid region of Brazil) and Africa, belonging to the euphorbiaceae family. In the opinion of some authors, its most probable origin is Central America and Mexico. This kind of plant is widely distributed in countries of almost all the continents; it is therefore cultivated in the most varied types of climate, and when it develops in favorable soil and climate conditions, it may grow as much as 3 to 8 meters high and maintain an economically viable production for approximately 50 years. It is pointed out that the production of pinhão manso is good in less fertile soils. Jatropha curcas plants also present good growth over a broad range of altitudes and of rainfall. One of the main characteristics of Jatropha curcas is the fact that it produces fruit an early age, starting 5 months after planting and reaching a stable level after one year. The pinhão manso species has multiple uses, but special emphasis has been given to its impressive capacity to store large quantities of oil in its seeds, which can reach a figure close to 66% (m/m), depending on the extraction process employed. A very important fact is that the oil extracted from the pinhão manso seeds can be used directly (crude) in diesel engines at proportions that vary from 20% to 30%, or can be used pure after transesterification, a process involving the presence of methanol and a catalyst (acid or base), at 600C. Oil for use in its pure form can also be obtained by employing the catalytic action of lipase enzymes, found in tissues of animal or vegetable origin.


Although it has been cultivated for centuries in several parts of the world, and particularly in countries in Asia and Africa, information concerning the management of commercial plantations of pinhão manso are still rare in the pertinent literature. In order to fill in this gap, Fazenda Tamanduá has pioneered the plantation of Jatropha curcas in the semi-arid region of Brazil; and for that purpose, it has enjoyed the effective collaboration of technical professionals and students of the Forest Engineering course at the Campina Grande Federal University.


The experimental area (Photo 1) is approximately 2.5 hectares, and among the objectives of the investigation the following stand out:

(1) evaluation of the seed production potential of Jatropha curcas plants coming from several regions of Brazil,

(2) floral biology and reproduction (Photo 2),

(3) nutritional habits,

(4) irrigation management,

(5) inducing lateral budding, and

(6) biodiesel production. The plantation was established in clayey soil with high activity and high natural fertility.

Photo 1. Experimental area at Fazenda Tamanduá planted with Jatropha curcas coming from various regions in Brazil.


Photo 2. Detail of the blossoming habit of Jatropha curcas (above), a monoecious species, and isolation of blooms for manual pollination (below).

The application of fertilizers is essentially organic, that is, leaves and branches from pruning are used, in addition to the “cake” (Photo 3) resulting from the grinding of the seeds during the biodiesel extraction process.

In natural conditions (without irrigation), the harvesting period for pinhão manso coincides with the rainy period in the semi-arid region (6 months), and production per hectare reaches 6,000 kg of seeds per year. Among the most promising preliminary results of the research carried out at Fazenda Tamanduá, a highlight is the rise in the number of blooms per plant and fruiting throughout the year, both resulting from a management practice that combines pruning with recurrent hydric stress.

With regard to the extraction of oil from the seeds (Photo 4), the process employed was mechanical (Photo 5); and it was observed that non-polar organic substances – probably components of the integument, and therefore soluble in oil – gave the biodiesel a light brown color.

A likely alternative to give the biodiesel an even lighter color is to remove the integument prior to the grinding of the seeds, which is already being investigated. The extraction of the pinhão manso oil by mechanical means is most efficient when the water content of the seeds is between 5 and 7%. All the products extracted from the pinhão manso have a pre-determined use, thus following the policy implemented at Fazenda Tamanduá for the use of organic products. In addition to being an excellent fuel, the presence of some active substances gives the oil from pinhão manso seeds (Figure 6) a strong ovicidal activity, as well as preventing the laying of eggs: these are characteristics that, for example,will be used in controlling the proliferation of certain pests.

Despite the strong incentive the government has given for the planting of castor-bean plants for biodiesel production, the results obtained from this plant species have fallen far short of expectations. The government, it has been said, has lost its initial enthusiasm and already shows signs of re-assessing the use of castor beans for the production of biodiesel.  According to Arnoldo de Campos, of the Agrarian Development Ministry, castor oil is considered an important part of the Brazilian project for the production of bio-fuels, but not as priority or exclusive crop. Initiatives such as that carried out by Fazenda Tamanduá may be of help to farmers and researchers in choosing alternatives to the castor-bean plant.


Photo 3. Organic fertilization of Jatropha curcas plants using the “cake” produced during the grinding of seeds in order to extract biodiesel oil.

Photo 4. Sample of biodiesel oil, after filtering, extracted mechanically from the seeds of Jatropha curcas plants.

Photo 5. Detail showing the equipment used for the extraction of biodiesel oil. Seed grinder (right) and oil-filtering machine (left).

Photo 6. Seeds of Jatropha curcas plants.

Today, pinhão manso is standing out as one of the alternatives to castor oil throughout Brazil because it shows signs of being more advantageous in both agricultural and environmental terms. Finally, in addition to other oil-bearing plants, Jatropha curcas is a viable alternative in composing an ecologically correct energy matrix, and a large part of the semi-arid region of Brazil offers favorable environmental conditions for its development.
The main aim of this research is to generate knowledge that may support extensive cultivation of Jatropha curcas in the semi-arid region of the State of Paraíba and in other Brazilian regions, and to contribute to the improved training of human resources in our region by offering internships to university and technical college students.

The husk of the fruit (Figure 7) may be used both for energy generation, as mentioned above, since it has a high heating value, and also as an organic fertilizer for the plants.

Photo 7. Details of Jatropha curcas fruit


Fazenda Tamanduá at BioFach América Latina 2006


Once more this year, Fazenda Tamanduá took part in the BioFach América Latina/Expo Sustentat Fairs.

For the first time, the Brazilian edition of the world’s largest organic fair, based in Nüremberg, Germany, was held  in São Paulo, at the Transamérica Expo Center. It had taken some time to leave the “Marvellous City” of Rio de Janeiro, but it was worth it!

With over 300 exhibitors occupying two pavillions of the Transamérica Expo Center, it was a total success and was praised by all.

National and international buyers were present, despite the fact that the Paris SIAL - whose organic area is constantly increasing - was being held at the same time.

Unfortunately, we missed the presence of the public, scared away by the high admission prices. In fact, it is very important to show our consumers not only the strength of the organic movement in Brazil, but also the rich and varied range of products available.

Once again, congratulations to Bia and Rosina who did a great job and who, though they are cariocas, discovered that São Paulo is still the largest business center in Brazil!

Fazenda Tamanduá booth at BioFach América Latina

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