New biodiesel crop Jatropha taking off in S.W. Florida
The roots for a new energy crop in
In LaBelle, a company called My Dream Fuel LLC is
cultivating Jatropha curcas,
a tree-shrub that shows promise as a new biodiesel
crop in the
Nearly 1 million seedlings are in the ground at a nursery
Researchers say the plant can produce four times more fuel per acre than soy, and 10 times more than corn.
The demand for oil from the plant already is strong, said Paul Dalton, a former child advocate and attorney who owns My Dream Fuel.
“There are about 100 buyers for every gallon you produce,” he said.
His company soon will open a $1.5 million,
15,000-square-foot center for seed crushing and plant cloning at the State
Farmers’ Market off
The Jatropha tree, native to
His company is one of the first to do large plantings of
trees in the
Some of the trees came from a cloning plant in
The cloning plant here will be able to churn out plants at
the rate of 1 million a month,
“We studied our mother trees that we use to clone for over six years, and we have over 500 of them. So we have the largest bank of mother trees in the world, of any company,” he said.
Leading that effort is Golden Gate Estates resident Dave Wolfley, the owner of Sunshine Biofuels, a start-up company formed two years ago to build an alternative fuel plant.
The biggest issue had been finding the feedstock.
Jatropha is just what Wolfley has been searching for.
“There is a ton of money in it,” he said.
He’s searching for large landowners in
Concerned about pollution and the country’s dependence on foreign oil, Wolfley has developed a small processing plant in his garage where he uses waste vegetable oil from restaurants to cook up his own biodiesel to fuel a Jeep and a Ford pickup truck.
“We know of a couple of groups from
The dreaded canker and greening diseases have left thousands of acres of citrus land sitting bare, which could be used to grow the new energy crop. The hardy Jatropha is more resistant to disease and can survive a three-year drought.
The Jatropha crop has the
potential to be more profitable than citrus,
The average farmer can gross a little more than $2,000 an acre annually at current prices, and the plants live 40 to 50 years, he said.
The main expense for the grower is the plant itself. A seedling costs $3, with a $2 planting fee.
My Dream Fuel offers to plant and harvest the trees mechanically for growers. Under the arrangement, growers prepare the fields and maintain them. The plants require an occasional watering and virtually no fertilizing.
“It’s such an easy tree to care for. It doesn’t really
require much at all,”
For the first 500 gallons of oil produced, larger growers get all the profits. After that, there’s a sharing arrangement.
In all, My Dream Fuel has about 1.5 million trees in the
Eight months ago,
LaBelle Grove Management in
The test projects have gone well,
A few other growers are trying Jatropha
Ron Hamel, executive vice president of the Gulf Citrus Growers Association, representing growers in a five-county region, said he hasn’t heard that growers are jumping all over the idea.
But the potential for a new crop has created a buzz in the industry.
“I haven’t heard anything negative about it,” Hamel said.
Locally, environmentalists don’t seem to be raising a big fuss about Jatropha.
“If it lives up to its promise of being a very productive
source for biofuel, then great,” said Brad Cornell, a
policy advocate for Audubon of
The society doesn’t support growing corn for ethanol because there’s no efficient way to do it, and there are concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
Roy Beckford, an agricultural
and natural resource agent for the
He said it’s actually good for the environment because one acre of plantings, which is about 600 trees, will remove four metric tons of carbon dioxide gas from the air a year.
Beckford is overseeing several experiments
with Jatropha in
One grower in
“Certainly in our area we are kind of pioneering this whole thing,” he said.