You might not have heard of jatropha before, but in the world of biofuel, the ugly, poisonous weed is a rock star. The jatropha bush grows quickly, does well when water is scarce and with seeds that have 40 percent oil content, jatropha can help the world rely less on crude oil. India is the largest producer of jatropha. In fact India's biodiesel industry centers on the plant, bringing economic benefits to rural farmers who can grow the crop on land ill-suited for food production. The jatropha bush, which has a lifespan of 50 years, does well on land ravaged by drought or pests. According to one estimate, 2.47 acres (1 hectare) of jatropha produces 0.83 tons (752 kilograms) to 2.20 tons (1995.81 kilograms) of oil [source: Industrial Bioprocessing].
Not only can scientists turn oil from crushed jatropha seeds into biodiesel, but engineers can take what's left over and use it as a source of biomass (energy produced from the waste of living things), which is then used to fuel factories and power plants [source: Macintyre].