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Hawaii sustainability project addresses jatropha production

By Erin Voegele | May 19, 2011

A team of researchers at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa has received $1 million in funding to support a sustainability initiative that includes work with jatropha. According to Michael Cooney, an associate professor in the university’s Natural Energy Institute, the initiative focuses on the nexus of energy, water and the environment. The project that has been funded, he said, is titled “Water, Energy and Soil Sustainability,” and includes the processing of industrial liquid waste streams into soil amendments, which could, in turn, be used to cultivate biofuel feedstocks such as jatropha.

Cooney noted that jatropha has shown potential as a sustainable biodiesel feedstock in Hawaii. While much attention has been paid to palm oil, he said that Hawaii’s climate is not tropical enough to support its growth. Cooney also said he thinks algae oil production faces limitations in terms of its resource and carbon dioxide needs.

Jatropha can produce up to 100 gallons of oil per acre in the first year, and between 250 to 300 gallons after three years, Cooney said. “It’s a perennial crop, you can prune it to make it easier to harvest, and it has a natural pesticide in it, which is useful,” Cooney said. “You don’t have to put out pesticides. The nut has got a really rich protein. It should make a very good animal feed [if the toxin in the seed can be removed].”

Cooney said he is currently working on a laboratory-based project that focuses on removing the toxin from jatropha seeds. We have a novel solution using solvents to extract oil from the seeds, he said. “We were curious whether that solvent would also extract out proteins and other molecules from the tissue,” Cooney added. “We’re not seeing that it extracts too much protein, but it seems to be extracting [the toxin].”

In addition to jatropha production, the broad-based sustainability project also includes educational outreach and  the development of a business plan to commercialize some of the technologies that have the potential to sustain the project after its initial two-year duration, said Gary Ostrander, UH Mānoa Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education. Ostrander’s office sponsored the competition.

“This project has strong potential for commercializing technology and products in the next several years,” said Ostrander, “while also giving UH Mānoa researchers and engineering students the opportunity to apply scientific knowledge towards sustainable industries.”  

 

 
 
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