In recent years, liquid biofuels for transport have benefited from significant political support due to their potential role in curbing climate change and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. They may also participate to rural development by providing new markets for agricultural production. However, the growth of energy crops has raised concerns due to their high consumption of conventional fuels, fertilizers and pesticides, their impacts on ecosystems and their competition for arable land with food crops. Low-input species such as Jatropha curcas, a perennial, inedible crop well adapted to semiarid regions, has received much interest as a new alternative for biofuel production, minimizing adverse effects on the environment and food supply. Here, we used life-cycle assessment to quantify the benefits of J. curcas biofuel production in West Africa in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and fossil energy use, compared with fossil diesel fuel and other biofuels. Biodiesel from J. curcas has a much higher performance than current biofuels, relative to oil-derived diesel fuels. Under West Africa conditions, J. curcas biodiesel allows a 72% saving in greenhouse gas emissions compared with conventional diesel fuel, and its energy yield (the ratio of biodiesel energy output to fossil energy input) is 4.7. J. curcas production studied is eco-compatible for the impacts under consideration and fits into the context of sustainable development.