Jatropha harvesting on Hawai'i Island began recently at the Hawai'i Pure Plant Oil (HIPPO) farm founded in 2008 by father and son partners Christian and James Twigg-Smith. HIPPO has planted a total of 200 acres of Jatropha Curcas in the Puna district with the intent of harvesting its seeds and extracting the oil for biodiesel production.
Jatropha Curcas is a species of flowering plant cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. The plant is a semi-evergreen shrub or small tree, and the seeds contain oil that can be processed into high-quality biodiesel fuel for use in standard diesel engines.
Now, five years after the farm's inception, the Twigg-Smiths have formed a direct collaboration with Pacific Biodiesel Technologies (PBT) under its federally funded Hawai'i Military Biofuel Crop (HMBC) project. The project involves developing production models for Jatropha and other crops to share with potential biofuel crop growers throughout the state.
James Twigg-Smith, founder of Hawai‘i Pure Plant Oil, inspects his jatropha field before beginning the recent harvest.
"We are currently having our best harvest to date," said James Twigg-Smith, who is overseeing the harvest as a PBT employee. Twigg-Smith noted that the harvest will run through mid-September. "The fields were prepared with care, so as much labor as possible can be done mechanically," he added.
Smart planning has Twigg-Smith anticipating a harvest of roughly 40,000 pounds for the first 100 acres.
Because of its tolerance for drought as well as the rich oil content of the seeds, Jatropha has been has been an intriguing component in discussions about feedstock for biodiesel production. The HIPPO farm is currently the largest Jatropha crop in the U.S., and also has some of the oldest growth, which is important in determining maximum yield capacity.
PBT will now be able to process the Jatropha seeds for oil at its newly installed seed crushing mill, also part of the HMBC project, located only a few miles from the farm.
Once the oil has been extracted, it will be transported next door to Big Island Biodiesel for processing into the highest quality distilled biodiesel.
"This is a very exciting time for our farm and locally grown biodiesel production in Hawai'i," said Twigg-Smith.