Could a homely succulent save the planet? Maybe. Oil squeezed from the
Jatropha curcas plant helped fuel a train from Delhi to Mumbai and a
90-minute Boeing jet ride in Houston last year. Some scientists grouse
that years of eco-optimism have yet to domesticate the
drought-resistant plant, which can’t survive North America’s cooler
climes and has fickle yields. Jatropha fans gathering in Rotterdam,
though, remain undaunted. “The plant’s toxicity, getting more harvest
out of it, that’ll all be worked out,” says David Skole, professor of
forestry at Michigan State University, as biofuels investment in
(frost-free) Africa and Asia soars. Helping lead the charge: GM and the
U.S. Department of Energy, which partnered this spring to test the
plant in India. — EM
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