Feedstocks: A focus on camelina

By | August 08, 2008
The National Biodiesel Board has a feedstock development program in place to help diversify feedstocks available to make biodiesel through geographic diversity, using non-edible product and increasing oil yield in current feedstocks. One up-and-coming feedstock of interest, camelina, is a newcomer to the United States, but has worked well in Europe.

Camelina may look and act like a weed, but those characteristics help make it a viable oil crop for biodiesel. It can be grown in arid conditions and does not require significant amounts of fertilizer. The best part is the oil content. Some varieties are 38 percent to 40 percent oil. The leftover meal could be used in animal feed or human consumption, but neither usage has yet been approved in the United States. However, a camelina production guide published by Montana State University suggests that camelina meal has the potential to enhance the food quality of fish, meat, poultry and dairy products.

Camelina is a member of the mustard family and is also known as false flax, gold of pleasure and leindotter in Germany. According to Montana State University, camelina is a short season (85 to 100 days) annual or winter annual crop. It performs well under drought stress and can yield up to 2,200 pounds per acre in areas with less than 16 inches of annual rainfall. It can be planted on marginally productive cropland from eastern Washington to North Dakota. Camelina production increased 400 percent in Montana to 50,000 acres in 2007. Limited acreage was also planted in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Minnesota.

Crushing facilities exist in Montana with a capacity of 1.2 million bushels, essentially handling the existing 50,000 acres. In order to increase acreage of camelina, more crushing plants are needed and several more are being developed. Since camelina is not approved as a food source, all of the oil is going toward biodiesel production.

Camelina biodiesel has been produced and evaluated by several U.S. commercial biodiesel manufacturers. According to these companies, camelina biodiesel performance appears to be equal in value and indistinguishable from biodiesel produced from other oilseed crops such as soybeans. In Europe, where camelina oil has been used in biodiesel for several years, extensive tests determined the fuel properties are within specifications with the exception of cold filter plug point (CFPP). Two CFPP additives, CP7134 and Lubrizol, have been approved in Ireland, making the camelina biodiesel CFPP acceptable in winter temperatures.
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