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Jatropha is a genus of approximately 175 succulent plants, shrubs and trees (some are deciduous, like Jatropha curcas), from the family Euphorbiaceae. The generic name is derived from the Greek words ἰατρός (iatros), meaning "physician," and τροφή (trophe), meaning "nutrition," hence the common name physic nut. Mature plants produce separate male and female flowers. As with many members of the family Euphorbiaceae, Jatropha contains compounds that are highly toxic.

Goldman Sachs recently cited Jatropha curcas as one of the best candidates for future biodiesel production. It is resistant to drought and pests, and produces seeds containing 27-40% oil, averaging 34.4%. The remaining press cake of jatropha seeds after oil extraction could also be considered for energy production. However, despite its abundance and use as an oil and reclamation plant, none of the Jatropha species have been properly domesticated and, as a result, its productivity is variable, and the long-term impact of its large-scale use on soil quality and the environment is unknown.
Currently the oil from Jatropha curcas seeds is used for making biodiesel fuel in Philippines and in Brazil, where it grows naturally and in plantations in the Southeast, and the North/Northeast Brazil. Likewise, jatropha oil is being promoted as an easily grown biofuel crop in hundreds of projects throughout India and other developing countries. The railway line between Mumbai and Delhi is planted with Jatropha and the train itself runs on 15-20% biodiesel. In Africa, cultivation of Jatropha is being promoted and it is grown successfully in countries such as Mali. In the Gran Chaco of Paraguay, where also a native variety (Jatropha matacensis) grows, studies have shown suitability of Jatropha cultivation and agro producers are starting to consider planting in the region.

Estimates of Jatropha seed yield vary widely, due to a lack of research data, the genetic diversity of the crop, the range of environments in which it is grown, and Jatropha's perennial life cycle. Seed yields under cultivation can range from 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms per hectare, corresponding to extractable oil yields of 540 to 680 litres per hectare (58 to 73 US gallons per acre). Time Magazine recently cited the potential for as much as 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel per acre per year.

Jatropha can also be intercropped with other cash crops such as coffee, sugar, fruits and vegetables.

On Dec. 30, 2008 Air New Zealand successfully completed a test flight from Auckland using a 50/50 mixture of jatropha oil -derived biofuel and Jet A1 in one of the four Rolls-Royce RB211 engines of a 747 jumbo jet. Air New Zealand announced plans to use the new fuel for 10% of its needs by 2013. At the time of this test, jatropha was significantly cheaper than crude oil, costing an estimated $43 a barrel or about one-third of the June 4, 2008 closing price of $122.30 for a barrel of crude oil. However, the falling cost of oil has since changed the dynamic, with crude oil trading in the $34–$48 range per barrel between December 2008, and February 2009.

On January 7, 2009 Continental Airlines successfully completed a test flight from Houston, Texas using a 50/50 mixture of algae/jatropha oil-derived biofuel and Jet A in one of the two CFM56 engines of a Boeing 737-800 Next Generation jet. The two-hour test flight could mark another promising step for the airline industry to find cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuel.
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