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Tuesday, Mar 28, 2023

Bioenergy Crop Company Plants Its Flag in India



CEO: Kirk Haney.

Revenue: Would not disclose.

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No. of local employees: 40.

Investors: Life Technologies Corp. and Flint Hills Resources.

Headquarters: Carmel Valley.

Year founded: 2007.

Company description: A bioenergy crop company focused on thoroughly mapping and hybridizing the Jatropha curcas plant, an inedible fruit that produces high grade oil from its seed.

Super Green Biofuels Inc., which aims to make fuel from the inedible seed of the Jatropha plant, says it is expanding its operation into India.

Better known as SG Biofuels, the company has amassed a huge library of DNA and genome information about Jatropha, so it can design hybrid seeds to best fit the land, sun and growing patterns of different areas.

“Our expansion into India marks a significant milestone for the company as we continue to expand our commercialization efforts,” SG Biofuels Chief Executive Officer Kirk Haney said. “Our ability to quickly develop and scale productive Jatropha plantations using elite, high performing material will play a significant role in providing energy security and economic development while reducing greenhouse emissions.”

SG recruited Subhas Pattnaik as director of operations for the market. Pattnaik formerly led operations for Mission NewEnergy Limited in India, where he managed the rollout and operations of the largest Jatropha plantation acreage in the world, spanning more than 200,000 acres, 124,000 farmers and five provinces, said a March 7 SG news release announcing the company’s expansion into India.

According to a report by the Office of Scientific & Technical Information of the U.S. Department of Energy, the shortage of reliable, inexpensive and sustainable energy is a key factor in keeping India and Brazil at poverty levels higher than necessary. Both areas are also potentially prime Jatropha growing areas.

Seeking Better Yields

“Jatropha will grow on marginalized land that’s not conducive to food production, avoiding the food-or-fuel debate,” said Brian Brokowski, SG’s vice president of communications. “We’ve harnessed crop science to improve Jatropha through breeding and bioscience so we can get better and consistently higher yields.”

SG Biofuels claims it has the largest and most comprehensive library for the fast-growing shrub, developed in partnership with Life Technologies Corp., which sequenced the Jatropha genome at its Carlsbad offices.

“We’re focused on the crop science piece and we establish partnerships with businesses that have the other pieces of the puzzle,” Brokowski said. For example, SG has partnered with oil refiner Flint Hills Resources, a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries Inc.

In September, SG Biofuels said it completed a $9.4 million Series A financing with proceeds from Flint Hills Resources, Life Technologies and other investors. The financing will support the company’s efforts to advance Jatropha as a high-yielding, low-cost feedstock for diesel, jet fuel and petrochemicals.

Jatropha oil has been tested as a biodiesel, with good results. Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York recently conducted a series of tests mixing Jatropha oil with heavy petroleum oil called residual oil used to run boilers, and found that it burned just as well but with significantly fewer toxic emissions, according to Tom Butcher, who heads the Energy Resources Division of the national lab.

A Good Mix

“We mixed raw Jatropha oil with residual oil, which has relatively high emissions,” Butcher said. “We found it mixes well in different proportions from 10 percent to 100 percent Jatropha and it burns well. Since it is sulfur-free, there are no sulfur dioxide emissions and, burned alone, it has half the nitrous dioxide emissions of residual oil and 50 percent fewer particulates.”

Air New Zealand Limited has tested Jatropha oil as a substitute for jet fuel, while Continental Airlines Inc. and Japan Airlines have tested it as part of a blend with algae, with good results.

The oil costs about $1.40 per gallon, or $58 per barrel, to produce, but larger scale production would reduce costs.

SG Biofuels already has a foothold in Guatemala, where it has a 1,500-acre test farm, and opened a Brazil office in January. But the push into India means access to one of the world’s largest consumers of diesel, without forcing the question of food or fuel, one of the longest standing controversies in the biofuel arena.

“By launching our operations into Brazil and now India, we’re extending our footprint into two of the world’s largest markets for Jatropha,” Haney said. 

Marty Graham is a freelance writer for the San Diego Business Journal.


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