Monday, Nov. 2, 2009 | It started with the corn-ethanol boom in 2004. Plants — whether algae or dinner table staples — were billed as the cure for our addiction to fossil fuels.
But high hopes and initial enthusiasm gradually gave way to a sobering reality: that finding a viable replacement for oil in the modern economy is an extremely difficult proposition. To get a sense of just how difficult, consider the saga of jatropha curcas.
The poisonous, oil-yielding weed was all the rage among biofuel enthusiasts in 2007, when a Goldman Sachs report claimed jatropha biodiesel would cost just $43 a barrel to produce. But domesticating jatropha has proven difficult.
And in June a team of Dutch researchers published a study which showed that producing biodiesel from jatropha consumed more water than a variety of crops including soybeans and corn. Other scientists, however, criticized that study, saying the Dutch team based its conclusions on inadequate data.