High-level jatropha trials send D1 shares soaring

Siemens and two other European multinationals are trialling biofuels refined from jatropha oil, specialist D1 Oils said, in a move - billed a "vote of confidence" in the industry - which sent the group's shares soaring 50%.

Siemens, the German conglomerate, is this week starting trials on behalf of an unnamed shipping company assessing the viability of jatropha-based biodiesel for powering turbines on a high-speed ferry.

The trials come amid tests which D1 revealed were being undertaken by two other unnamed European multinationals one a consumer goods group using the biofuel to generate power, and another a specialty chemicals company assessing jatropha oil as a replacement for oil as a raw material.

D1 said that success in the trials may lead to "offtake deals for large proportion of D1's planned harvest for next season and beyond".

The group's shares, which hit an all-time low of 1.9p in the last session, rebounded to close at 3.2p in London, up 49% on the day.

Broader significance 

However, the demand also represented a "vote of confidence" in the whole jatropha sector, after a series of setbacks, according to an industry insider.

The 70 tonnes of fuel being used for the three trials was, in the context of the industry, a "relatively significant" amount.

D1, tagged by broker Hardman the "doyen" of the sector, has estimated its output of crude jatropha oil at 1,200 tonnes in 2010-11.

The source added: "The significance of these trials is largely in terms of the industry," opening up potential markets for the oil, which has yet to fulfil the hopes of investors who rushed to back jatropha towards the end of the last decade.

Loss maker 

Indeed, only one of the five listed jatropha-focused businesses, Jatoil, is worth more now than when it was listed, research by Hardman showed.

Mission NewEnergy, which is also traded in Sydney, has lost about one-quarter of its stockmarket value, while D1 has, even at Thursday's price, lost nearly 90%.

However, the broker added that with both cases, investment in refineries rather than the oilseed itself had been the "primary cause of disappointment".

And the prospects for returns from the oil and a meal byproduct, being research as an animal feed, "suggest that as an investment proposition, jatropha may have a better future than suggested by recent history".

The plant, while not producing edible vegetable oil, is prized for its ability to grow on poor land not suitable for other crops.

It is already being researched by carmakers including Daimler Chrysler and Toyota, and has been tested as an aviation fuel by Air New Zealand, Continental Airlines and Boeing.

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