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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Special PEER-PIRE Cycle (June 2012 Deadline)

NSF-PIRE collaboration: sustainability evaluation of jatropha oil production in Yucatan, Mexico

PI:  Julio Sacramento-Rivero, Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan (UADY)
U.S. Partner: Kathy Halvorsen et al., Michigan Technological University (MTU)
Project Dates: December 2012 - November 2016

Project Overview 

This project relates to a five-year Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) award entitled Sustainability, Ecosystem Services, and Bioenergy Development across the Americas, which was funded by NSF beginning in October 2012.  Dr. Julio Sacramento-Rivero and his colleagues will work with Dr. Kathy Halvorsen and her group at Michigan Tech to address such questions as “How is bioenergy development affecting social systems?” and “What sustainability indicators and metrics best assess biofuel sustainability across highly variable Pan American socio-ecological systems?” This work will be performed in the context of the jatropha oil industry currently under development in the state of Yucatan, Mexico. This case study is unique in that it presents both universal and idiosyncratic aspects of sustainability to be evaluated. Although commercial-oil production is not expected to begin in Yucatan until 2014 or 2015, several communities have already been affected by the planting and cultivation stages, and it is uncertain how the currently planned commercialization model will impact sustainability in the region.

PP10 - Budding Plantlets

PP10 - New Plantlets

New buds on a jatropha plant (photo courtesy of Dr. Sacremento).A team member transplants a new plantlet (photo courtesy of Dr. Sacremento).

Thus, this project aims to evaluate the sustainability of the production and commercialization process of jatropha oil, and the socioeconomic impacts of this activity on the local communities in Yucatan and the broader national system. Also, although the current commercialization model is primarily concerned with biodiesel sales, it has been strongly suggested that the economic viability of such systems can be greatly benefit from the integral use of the jatropha plant. In that sense, a biorefinery system will be designed and included in the sustainability assessment, as an alternative, expanded system. For this stage, fundamental engineering experiments will be performed on the local feedstock at the Faculty of Chemical Engineering at UADY and at MTU, which will generate characterization data of the local feedstock that will be required for evaluation of both biofuel-oriented and biorefinery-oriented systems. Funds from the PEER Science grant to UADY will support the purchase of new lab equipment, materials, and software; domestic and international travel for fieldwork and training; and PhD student stipend support.

Summary of Recent Activities

The experimental data-gathering component of this project continued in the third quarter of 2015, as Dr. Sacramento and his team measured various properties of locally grown jatropha seeds, including carbohydrate profiles and phorbol ester content in jatropha press cake using various detoxification methods. The team has completed its techno-economic analysis of the jatropha biorefinery, and preliminary results from the Life Cycle Assessment of the biorefinery are already available. The following students are currently involved in the PEER project and working on their theses: Diego de Jesús Perera Solís and Karla Daniela Chikani Cabrera (undergraduate Chemical Engineering students), Arturo Herrera Cruz (undergraduate Economics student), and Freddy Navarro Pineda (PhD student). The two undergraduates are expected to complete their theses by the end of 2015.

Three manuscripts co-authored by team members were accepted for publication this quarter: one on “Evaluating the sustainability of biorefineries at the conceptual design stage” in Chemical Engineering Research and Design, one on “Advances on the processing of Jatropha curcas towards a whole-crop biorefinery” in Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews, and one on “A case study of strategies for fostering international interdisciplinary research” in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences. In addition, Dr. Sacramento and his PhD student Freddy Navarro Pineda attended the 1st International Renewable Energy Congress in Huatulco, Mexico, September 23-25, during which they presented a poster on their team’s work on analyzing the production cycle for sweet sorghum bioethanol in the state of Yucatán.

In the coming months, the team will continue working on their life cycle analysis of the jatropha biorefinery and make chapter assignments for a book. Field work with historian Dr. Jorge Victoria will be carried out in Sucopo in early December to gather information for the book’s first chapter. Due to delays encountered during the project, a one-year no-cost extension has been issued through November 2016 to give the team sufficient time to complete and publish their research.

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