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Researchers awarded $5 million to study oilseed camelina as biofuel feedstock

January 16, 2013
KEYWORDS biofuel / oilseed / usda
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded a team of researchers $5.08 million to study the potential of oilseed camelina as a biofuel feedstock.

According to USDA, the crop has shown good potential as an environmentally friendly commercial biofuel feedstock, particularly for biodiesel and jet fuel.

The goal of the project is to make oilseed camelina a cost-effective bioenergy and bio-based product feedstock, said lead researcher Xiuzhi “Susan” Sun.

“This project will generate substantial information that will build a foundation to make nonfood oilseeds a better resource for biofuels, chemicals and bioproducts, with minimal negative impact on food crop systems or the environment," said Sun, who is co-director of the Center for Biobased Polymers By Design and a professor at Kansas State University.

The funding is part of a $25 million effort by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture to fund research and development of next-generation energy and high-value bio-based products from a variety of biomass (plant) sources.

RELATED: USDA awards payments to support producers of advanced biofuels

Previous studies indicated camelina-based jet fuel reduces net carbon emissions by about 80 percent, compared with jet fuels currently in use. It has been tested by the U.S. Navy and Air Force and the results have been promising, but Sun said that producing fuels from camelina is currently not economically viable. Obstacles include the fact that camelina production is not sufficiently efficient per unit resource used and camelina oil processing generates about 65 percent solid meal by-product, mainly proteins and carbohydrates that is currently under-utilized. The technology has not been developed to produce high-value co-products from camelina bioenergy varieties.

With an eye on those challenges, the researchers Chengci Chen of Montana State and Augustine Obour of the University of Wyoming will look for ways to enhance camelina production by optimizing cropping systems within wheat-based crop rotations in Montana and Wyoming, where preliminary work has already been done, Sun said.

Once harvested and processed, Sun will develop new technologies to chemically convert camelina oil and meal to a variety of adhesives, coatings and composites, thus adding value to the co-product.

She will work with Kansas State University's Donghai Wang, professor in the university's Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, who will conduct fractionation and processing optimization research in collaboration with industries for commercialization potentials.

"Although camelina is currently grown in Montana and Wyoming, it will expand to the Northern Great Plains area, and it's possible that agricultural producers in Kansas might be interested in incorporating the crop into their cropping systems in the future," Sun said.

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