Even with all of the corporate focus on plug-in, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles (examples here, here and here), Daimler is not forgetting about good old biofuels. In fact, the company is working with two German groups (the Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH and Bayer CropScience AG) to help farmers in India grow jathropa on previously unprofitable wasteland in order to make biodiesel.
The project is starting small, with just 250 acres worth of seedlings planted so far, but Daimler says it will be investing in the communities that grow the crop for the next five years. After the crops are harvested in four years, Daimler will offer a purchase guarantee for the seeds, so the loans the farmers are taking out now will be able to be repaid even if the crops fail. Daimler has been working with Bayer since at least early 2008 on growing jathropa for biodiesel. Following a five-year research project, Daimler concluded in 2007 "that jatropha is suitable for the production of high-quality biodiesel." So, onward.
Jatropha plant opens up new prospects - Daimler remains committed to jatropha biodiesel
Stuttgart/Tamil Nadu (India)
*Support for small-scale Indian farmers with technical expertise and logistical assistance
*Daimler-cooperation with Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH and Bayer CropScience AG
*Support of agricultual output of jatropha biodiesel from unprofitable wasteland
Stuttgart/Tamil Nadu (India) – The seedlings for the first 100 hectares (250 acres) have been planted. Daimler AG has started a new project for the cultivation of the biodiesel raw material jatropha in the south of India. The company is supporting several village communities in the state of Tamil Nadu with funds and expertise from its already successfully completed research projects. Jatropha plants are cultivated and their seeds will be harvested in cooperation with farmers from these village communities. The seeds provide the basic raw material for biodiesel production. Only non-arable land that is no longer suitable and used for the cultivation of food crops is cultivated with jatropha plants. Thus, the jatropha fuel does not compete with local food production.
"One of our core tasks is the engineering of sustainable mobility that is also viable for the future. By promoting fuels made from jatropha, we are making yet another contribution. At the same time, by supporting village communities we are also creating economic prospects for socially weak regions of this earth", said Professor Herbert Kohler, VP of E-Drive & Future Mobility and Chief Environmental Officer of Daimler AG.
Daimler is ensuring financial support to the farmers in the communities over a period of five years by providing surety for small loans. With these funds, the farmers can buy jatropha seedlings and fulfill their tasks till the first harvest after four years. The income from the sale of the seeds, which Daimler ensures through a purchase guarantee, enables the loans to be paid back from the fifth year onwards. The loan repayments are collected in a revolving fund, which is used to grant loans to more farmers who decide to participate in the project. This creates an economic cycle that benefits many communities. The sureties ensure that the farmers suffer no financial threat to existence if the harvest fails because of reasons outside their control.
Working together for a plant full of promise
A local project management facilitates close teamwork with the local cooperatives. This enables regular contact between Daimler and the smallholders and ensures sustainable agricultural development work in the communities. The project is also supported by the DEG (Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft). In addition, Daimler AG has been working for over a year with Bayer CropScience AG towards further development of methods for sustainable cultivation of jatropha. As part of this cooperation, Bayer CropScience AG is also supporting the current project. The Indian subsidiary of Bayer CropScience provides expertise and products from its portfolio for effective pest and disease control for jatropha plants. Experts from the company provide training to the project staff, who then pass the knowledge directly to the participating farmers.
Jatropha – A high energy plant with potential
During the five-year research project completed in 2007, Daimler AG demonstrated that jatropha is suitable for the production of high-quality biodiesel. The use of the fuel was tested successfully in test vehicles with modern common rail diesel engines from Mercedes-Benz. The biodiesel manufactured from the seeds of the jatropha seed has similar properties to fuels from other oilseeds. It also has a positive CO2 balance and offers an ecological advantage over fossil diesel fuels, particularly when the specific advantages of the plant are properly harnessed. For example, jatropha can be cultivated on non-arable, eroded soil, thus making a contribution to environmental protection without interfering with the food sources for the local people.