Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Land Use Change from Jatropha Curcas-Based Jet Fuel in Brazil

Baka, Jennifer


Article written by Robert E. Bailis and 2009 DPDF Critical Agrarian Studies Fellow Jennifer E. Baka, featured in Environmental Science and Technology, Volume 44, No. 22: 


This analysis presents a comparison of life-cycle GHG emissions from synthetic paraffinic kerosene (SPK) produced as jet fuel substitute from jatropha curcas feedstock cultivated in Brazil against a reference scenario of conventional jet fuel. Life cycle inventory data are derived from surveys of actual Jatropha growers and processors. Results indicate that a baseline scenario, which assumes a medium yield of 4 tons of dry fruit per hectare under drip irrigation with existing logistical conditions using energy-based coproduct allocation methodology, and assumes a 20-year plantation lifetime with no direct land use change (dLUC), results in the emissions of 40 kg CO2e per GJ of fuel produced, a 55% reduction relative to conventional jet fuel. However, dLUC based on observations of land-use transitions leads to widely varying changes in carbon stocks ranging from losses in excess of 50 tons of carbon per hectare when Jatropha is planted in native cerrado woodlands to gains of 10−15 tons of carbon per hectare when Jatropha is planted in former agro-pastoral land. Thus, aggregate emissions vary from a low of 13 kg CO2e per GJ when Jatropha is planted in former agro-pastoral lands, an 85% decrease from the reference scenario, to 141 kg CO2e per GJ when Jatropha is planted in cerrado woodlands, a 60% increase over the reference scenario. Additional sensitivities are also explored, including changes in yield, exclusion of irrigation, shortened supply chains, and alternative allocation methodologies.