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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)
US Partner: Kathy Halvorsen et al., Michigan Technological University (MTU)
Project Dates: December 2012 - November 2015

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

This team finished adapting its laboratory space for experimental data-gathering during the first few months of 2015. The newly equipped space now houses pilot microalgae experiments (prospective studies to include in the biorefinery design) and preliminary experiments of anaerobic digestion of jatropha biomass. Experimental data-gathering also continues outside of the lab, and the team continues to collect data on the properties of locally grown jatropha seeds, including proximal analyses and protein profiles of the jatropha press-cake. Lastly, Karla Daniela Perez Basulto, a female chemical engineering undergraduate student, joined the project team and is now actively supporting activities in the lab.

In March 2015, Dr. Sacremento attended the USAID PEER Participants’ Forum in Lima, Peru, where he shared his preliminary results with other PEER colleagues and also identified further funding opportunities to extend the project. Additionally, on February 26, the team conducted a field visit to Sucopo and the jatropha plantations in Tizimin. Personnel from the U.S. partner’s PIRE project also travelled to Yucatan to visit the village where the socioeconomic surveys and interviews were made and to learn about the jatropha plantations.

The project is proceeding according to the plan and, in the coming months, the project team will complete and submit two manuscripts to peer-reviewed international journals. Also, the socioeconomic team expects to do fieldwork conducting the quantitative survey in Tabasco in June and July 2015. In May, the project staff will also travel to Houghton, Michigan, to attend the annual PIRE and RCN meetings.

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