BEIJING, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- China's poisonous jatropha shrub is showing promise as biofuel and could boost the country's efforts to reduce dependency on imported crude oil.
In the past, farmers planted the poisonous perennial only as a barrier to ward off animals from their fields. But Hong Kong-invested Shenyu New Energy Co. Ltd. sees the lush green shrub as a great moneymaker, with the potential to generate $59 million in annual sales.
"We are very confident about the biofuel industry. Many countries, including China, have realized the renewable energy industry would become a new engine for economic growth," Gou Ping, Shenyu's general manager told China Daily.
China, the world's second largest oil importer, aims to include 2 million tons of biodiesel in its annual fuel consumption by 2020.
According to a report issued by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China's annual crude oil demand is forecast to be more than 400 million tons this year and increase to 563 million tons by 2020.
By 2008, Shenyu had 49,445 acres of jatropha in the province of Yunnan. The company hopes to develop 82,410 acres of the shrub in 2010, Gou said. To help reach that target, Shenyu has enlisted 320 households in the Yunnan town of Yongxing to plant 3,303 acres of jatropha.
Each jatropha seed produces 30 to 40 percent of its mass in oil, which can be processed to produce biodiesel for diesel-running cars. The remaining residue can be further processed as biomass feedstock to power electricity plants or as fertilizer.
Shenyu is building a $9.5 million jatropha oil processing plant expected to be online by the middle of this year. Initially, the factory will produce 3,000 tons of biodiesel annually. Gou said the site has the potential to produce 100,000 tons annually at full capacity but there is not enough jatropha to process just yet.
Yunnan aims to produce 500,000 tons of biodiesel annually by 2015, according to a development plan issued by the provincial government in September last year.
Gou said about 20 companies are involved with jatropha plantations and associated processing businesses. But most of them are small enterprises and many companies are dealing with financing issues and lack processing and quality-control technologies.
"China has tremendous resources and could be a very important player in the world's research and commercialization of biofuels," David Wang, president of Boeing China, said at the World Route Conference in Beijing in mid-September.
Wang noted that if China could transform 12.4 million acres of the country's wasteland into jatropha plantations by 2020, the country's biofuel production could replace 40 percent of the current global aviation jet fuel demand.