ADM, Daimler, Bayer partner to explore jatropha

By Bryan Sims | February 11, 2008
In an attempt to diversify biodiesel feedstocks, agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland Co., Bayer CropScience AG and Daimler AG signed a three-year memorandum of understanding in early January to jointly explore the commercial feasibility of jatropha as a feedstock for biodiesel production. The partnership intends to develop production and quality standards for jatropha-based biodiesel.

Jatropha, a tropical plant from the Euphorbia family native to Central America and naturalized in other countries such as India and Africa, is an inedible crop. A nut from the jatropha tree can yield about 30 percent more oil than other conventional agricultural crops. When mature, the tree can thrive in dry, arid climates with minimal to no water. It can also be intercropped with other plants, so it won't compete for land used for food production, thus providing farmers with an additional source of income.

Since the project is in its nascent stages, Bayer CropScience was the only party to declare a specific role in the partnership. The German-based company plans to develop and register herbicides, soil insecticides and fungicides for disease and pest control of the jatropha plants. Bayer CropScience, a subsidiary of Bayer AG, is one of the leading innovative crop science companies in the areas of crop protection, nonagricultural pest control, seeds and plant biotechnology. Where to cultivate and harvest jatropha for this project was undetermined at press time, according to Bayer CropScience spokesman Utz Klages. "Currently, [Bayer CropScience] is looking worldwide for areas where jatropha is grown, and where field trials are possible and reasonable," Klages said.

Meanwhile, Daimler AG completed a wide-ranging, five-year research project at the end of 2007, demonstrating that jatropha can be used and cultivated to obtain high-quality biodiesel. The company will continue to explore the interactions between the fuel and engine in vehicles powered by jatropha biodiesel, and mixtures of this and other fuels, a joint press release said.

ADM doesn't have a role in the partnership at this time, according to company spokeswoman Beth Regan. However, its role as a biodiesel producer will allow the group to explore jatropha's potential as a viable feedstock. In addition to several plants in Europe, the Decatur, Ill.-based company currently owns and operates an 85 MMgy canola-based biodiesel plant in Velva, N.D., and holds a 49 percent share in Mid-America Biofuels LLC, a 30 MMgy soy-based plant in Mexico, Mo. "This [partnership] doesn't affect our U.S. biodiesel operations and will not have any impact on them in the short term," Regan said.

In Bayer CropScience news unrelated to the partnership, Kanawha Biodiesel LLC, a subsidiary of Emerald Biofuels LLC, received preliminary approval from the West Virginia Economic Development Authority for a 10-year, $5 million loan for a proposed biodiesel facility at the Bayer CropScience Manufacturing Industrial Park in Institute, W.V. A contract signed with Bayer CropScience calls for initial production of 30 MMgy. Proposed early last year, the project will begin construction in late January and is expected to start up in July followed by commercial shipments of product, according to Emerald Biofuels President David Drew. There is only one other biodiesel plant in the state: AC&S Inc., a 3 MMgy plant in Nitro that was slated to start production in February.
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