AFA secures land, goes commercial

By Luke Geiver | October 25, 2010
Posted Nov. 10, 2010

After five years of research, Alternative Fuels Americas says it is going commercial. The Florida-based energy crop developer will start in Costa Rica, growing jatropha for future biodiesel production. Craig Frank, CEO, said AFA is looking at feedstock development at this point because technology already exists to produce biofuels efficiently. "The refining is no tough trick," he said. "It is just a question of dollars and putting the facilities in place." As a result, AFA has plans to develop jatropha plantations in Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. Guatemala and Honduras are also possibilities, according to Frank. But, don't expect to see any of its jatropha-based feedstock from those countries being used in the U.S.

"We want to sell where we grow," he said. "We are not interested in growing it there and selling the feedstock in the U.S. market." After running the numbers on the profit margins created by growing and selling all in the same region, Frank said AFA can make a "very attractive" profit due to a cut in logistical costs, in combination with a healthy market that can absorb everything they make and then some. "I think initially [my thoughts weren't] much different than anybody else's, which was to go down there and grow the feedstock and ship it to the U.S. or Europe," Frank said. "What we really want to do now," he added, "is grow it, crush it, refine it and sell it all in the same place."

With experience in growing specifically for a Costa Rican climate, Frank said AFA has learned a lot through time spent consulting and working with other growers from Costa Rica. "In general terms, what we learned was that the initial hope or belief or hype about the plant itself has proved to be to us less correct then we hoped it would be. What we learned was that the better you treat the plant, the better it will treat you." The best practices for higher yields, he said, are going to require treating the plant the same as growers do for commercial plants. "That means irrigation, that means fertilizing more than once, that means trimming," he noted.

AFA has already worked with 17 different species of jatropha in various growing trials that ranged from growing with or without fertilizer, pesticides and varying levels of irrigation. While AFA has learned a lot through those trials, and will also apply those lessons (they will irrigate, fertilize and used pesticides) to future plantations, Frank said the lessons were disappointing "because it upsets the economics, but what you get back on the other end is worth the effort." The work in Costa Rica will initially be on a 200-hectare piece of land, but will eventually move to a 5,000 hectare (12,000 acres) plot. The work in Panama will start within the second quarter of next year, and the work in Colombia will begin in the fourth quarter of next year.
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