The Green Energy Boom Hits Hampton Roads — But What’s All This About Jatropha Nuts?

There is huge business news brewing in Hampton Roads that has yet to generate much attention outside the region: Two separate ventures are planning to build gigantic biodiesel facilities that would require capital investment exceeding $1 billion and would generate more than 600 million gallons a year of ethanol and biodiesel fuel.

Bio Energy Virginia, a Chesterfield-based, Swiss-owned company, first anounced its intention to build a $500 million plant in the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake. The plant would make 235 million gallons yearly of ethanol, and transform soy oil into 75 million gallons per year of biodiesel fuel. (See the May 19, 2007, Virginian-Pilot article.)

Days later came the news that Virginia Point Biodiesel, a subsidiary of a California company, would spend $532 to erect a facility, also on the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake. The plant would be capable of converting jatropha plant oil into 320 million gallons of biodiesel fuel. (See the May 22, 2007, Virginian-Pilot article.)

Both facilities will require state air permits as well as local government approval. Chesapeake officials relish the prospect of a $1 billion injection to the city’s tax base, but they’re worried about odors emanating from the plants, the impact of hundreds of trucks on city streets, and emergency access for fire trucks. The companies insist that the odors are containable, and tax revenues from the two plants, worth millions of dollars annually to the city, should be more than adequate to fund any infrastructure improvements. (One potential complication: Some of the infrastructure improvements may have to be made in the neighboring City of Portsmouth, which, in Virginia’s winner-take-all tax system, would not reap any of the tax windfall.)

The green energy boom is coming to Virginia. We’re helping pay for it at the gasoline pump when buying fuel mixed with ethanol, so it’s good to see that Midwestern corn farmers aren’t capturing all of the economic benefits.

Just one question: What’s this business about using the jatropha plant as a biodiesel feedstock? According to Wikipedia, jatropha is found mainly in tropical regions. Oil from the jatropha nut is used extensively in India to make biodiesel fuel. Unlike soy beans, which Virginia is well suited to grow, I doubt there’s much opportunity for Virginia farmers to cultivate the jatropha plant.
(Photo credit for jatropha plant: Photogallery of District Kanpur Dehat.)

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4 responses to “The Green Energy Boom Hits Hampton Roads — But What’s All This About Jatropha Nuts?”

  1. J. Scott Avatar
    J. Scott

    Is the main reason they are considering Virginia and Tidewater specially is because the military is required to convert to biodiesal and away from regular petrol in a few years

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    We shuold be allowed to grow hemp for biodiesel like our Founding Fathers.

  3. David Mastio Avatar
    David Mastio

    What did the founding fathers use their biodiesel for?

  4. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Ok, who are these Virginia Biogas Guys?

    A half billion dollars they supposedly have to spend on a refinery, and they can’t afford to hire anyone who can create a decent website.

    About the company. Nada.

    Their successes. Zilch.

    Other than a bunch of very fine print touting the virtues of this miracle plant, there is nothing that would convince me they could create a business plan that would be successful in generating the financial backing they claim.

    4 Billion dollar hotels for Korean tourists, a Maglev that won’t, and now magic seeds that rot unless they are kept in a vacuum. This is what passes for leadership in Tidewater.

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