Search the Site

Will This Weed Really ‘Save Humanity’?

Here’s my nominee for quote of the day, from a (gated) front page article in today’s Wall Street Journal:

“This plant will save humanity, I tell you.”

The person who said that is O.P. Singh, a horticulturist for the railway ministry of India. What plant is he talking about? A shrubby weed called jatropha, whose seeds contain an oil that Singh and others believe may power the biofuel revolution. Here’s how the Journal‘s Patrick Barta puts it:

With oil trading at roughly $70 a barrel, this lowly forest plant is suddenly an unlikely star on the world’s alternative-energy stage. The seeds from jatropha’s golf-ball-size fruit contain a yellowish liquid similar to palm oil that can be made into biodiesel … But unlike other biodiesel crops, jatropha can be grown almost anywhere — including deserts, trash dumps, and rock piles. It doesn’t need much water or fertilizer, and it isn’t edible. That means environmentalists and policy makers don’t have to worry about whether jatropha diverts resources away from crops that could be used to feed people.

Barta’s article also includes some Goldman Sachs data on the estimated cost per barrel of fuel made from a variety of sources:

Cellulose: $305
Wheat: $125
Rapeseed: $125
Soybean: $122
Sugar Beets: $100
Corn: $83
Sugar Cane: $45
Jatropha: $43

The article makes it sound as though jatropha is certainly a comer, especially compared to palm oil and corn. FWIW, this is not the first time that optimistic news about a biofuel “that might help save the planet” appeared on this blog.

Maybe it is time for the prediction market at to add a jatropha market, and/or to expand its Energy and the Environment market to offer betting on the future success of individual fuel sources, as it now does with ethanol.