Camelina – The Next Generation Biofuel?

Over the last few months, things have been a bit gloomy in the world of biofuels. Earlier this year, they enjoyed a position of prominence as a viable means of reducing carbon emissions and addressing the energy crisis. Since then, federal mandates requiring an increase in the amount of land set aside for growing biofuel crops may have already contributed to rising food costs and, peversely, may have also actively triggered an increase in global warming. As a result, the public and political perception of biofuels is at an all-time low.

[social_buttons] Step forward camelina, an oilseed crop whose supporters claim is already well on its way to being a viable low cost, high yield alternative to soy and corn as a source of biodiesel, without any of the downsides.

In fact, Great Plain, the “world’s largest Camelina producer” claim that it’s ‘virtually’ 100% efficient and a sustainable, low-input, biofuel feedstock that can help to combat rising emissions while also adding to food production and crop yields. It seems that the crop may boast a number of key advantages as a biofuel source since:

  • It doesn’t interfere with food production because it can be harvested and processed for fuel production and any remainder can be used as high quality animal feed, as well as fiberboard and glycerin;
  • It can be grown on marginal land, needing very little water, even in cold northerly states like Montana and even Canada;
  • It is an excellent rotational crop that has been shown to boost the yield of subsequent crops such as wheat by up to 15%.

Camelina is already widely grown throughout the U.S. and Canada for fuel and cattle feed. To date, several crushing partners have already teamed up with Great Plains to produce more than 10 million road miles of camelina biodiesel. Moreover, by 2012, the company plans to raise production to 100 million gallons a year.

When combined with the potential of other promising biofuel sources like jatropha, algae biofuel and cellulosic ethanol, it might just be that biofuels could turn the corner and re-enter the mix as a viable and sustainable alternative fuel source.

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Image Credit – jurvetson on Flickr via a creative commons license

Andrew Williams

is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.