Spanish auto parts maker Cie Automotive has agreed a joint venture with Brazil's NNE Minas Agro to supply jatropha crops to the South American country's booming biofuels industry.

As part of the venture, in which Cie will own 49%, the companies will invest EUR3.7m to harvest and expand crops of jatropha curcas, an unedible seed that can be used to make biodiesel, the leading biofuel alongside ethanol.

The companies plan to produce 172 tonnes a year of jatropha curcas seeds and more in future. They will operate from a 160-hectare field (expandable to 320 hectares) in the northern region of Minas Gerais state in Brazil.

Cie said the new unnamed entity may build a biodiesel oil refinery in future. It will also provide technical and training services for farmers interested in planting jatropha curcas as energy crops.

The deal marks Cie's second biofuels venture in Brazil. Earlier this year, the Bilbao-based group partnered with Brazilian company Enercom to build a 200,000 tonnes/year biodiesel factory in Sao Paulo.

Overall, the company hopes to churn out 700,000 tonnes/year of biodiesel by late 2008. It operates factories in Spain, Italy and Guatemala and is working to set up five others including Sao Paulo.

Apart from bionergy, Cie is growing its parts business in the emerging markets. It recently acquired Praga Louny, a Prague-based supplier of gearbox components to brands such as VW and ZF.

Cie operates eight parts factories in Eastern Europe's fast-growing car market.

Ivan Castano

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