This recent item has introduced me to camelina, a flax-like crop that has been around for at least five thousand years but not as a viable source for human consumption. For that it may well have to do through the same product conversion as rape seed oil into canola. It does shape up to be a very promising agricultural plant with a few modern tweaks.
This is a crop that prospers on ten inches of rain and little more. There are plenty of prospective lands that can work this crop and little else very successfully. It will be a great transition land crop were folks are been squeezed out of farming by Mother Nature. Think in particular of the buffalo commons of the Great Plains that should never have been broken and are now reaching the end of the aquifers.
At this point the oil is useful only as a fuel source. At least we now have a market for it in the form it is in. I suspect that it will take little to convert it into high quality edible oil that will be easily marketed. It has not been done yet and will take years. Canola had the same problem.
More promising is the immediate meal market for the remaining product. This means that there are minimal waste materials although little is said of the straw except to note that it is clearly minimal from the pictures. I do not have a per acre yield figure as yet either, but assume it approaches that of flax and rape.
In practice, the amounts produced will help the fuel situation but it is unlikely to be more than a fraction of the supply system. I would be happy if it just displaced agricultural usage of fossil fuels as a good first step.
Without question, we are transitioning over to sustainable transportation fuels. It is also obvious that brewing up sugars using algae is the easiest and cheapest way to get there. Biodiesel promises to be an important fuel also because it also can be produced cheaply as a byproduct of algae production and integrated directly into the transportation system. Camelina looks like a good feedstock for this industry now and ultimately as a food product at a later stage. It is certainly a better choice than canola and soy and grows on lands that are poor choices for either.
I am also assuming that haulage using pure electrical systems will remain for a long time only practical for short haul applications. Do not count on it!
Camelina looks to be best crop for biodiesel production
By DALE HILDEBRANT, Farm & Ranch Guide
Friday, August 15, 2008 11:05 AM CDT
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - When considering biodiesel production, camelina appears to be the Cinderella crop, according to information presented at the recent Bio-Mass '08 Technical Workshop in Grand Forks.
In recent months biodiesel production has decreased in the U.S. because of high prices for soybean and canola oil, the two main oils currently used in biodiesel processing, since the oil from both of these seeds is in high demand in the food industry.
At the present time, about 90 percent of the oil used in biodiesel is soy oil and the other 10 percent is canola oil. But the biodiesel production capacity of the U.S., which is 2.5 billion gallons per year, isn't being fully utilized with production last year of only 500 million gallons.
However, Duane Johnson the vice president for agricultural development at Great Plains Oil and Exploration in Big Fork, Mont., thinks camelina, which is sometimes called “false flax” could return profit to the bio-diesel industry and thus spur further growth.
For example, at the current market prices, soybean oil feedstock costs $5.25 a gallon and the feedstock price is about 80 percent of the final product cost, making the final cost of a gallon of biodiesel approximately $6.60, which is a figure well above the current price of diesel fuel.
Johnson also noted that converting good grade vegetable oil such as soybean and canola oil is adding to the backlash over food versus fuel, a debate that is currently taking place world-wide. Since camelina is industrial oil, not food grade oil, using it as a feedstock for bio-diesel would lessen that argument.
Using figures prepared by various agencies back in 2003, Johnson provided the following comparison for using oil crops grown in North Dakota for biodiesel. Even though the growing costs per acre and the cost per gallon of the oil are considerably higher, the following data provides a good comparison between the various oil crops in regards to bio-diesel production.
Raising camelina could also be an economic plus for farmers in the more arid areas of the northern Great Plains.
Alice Pilgeram has been working with camelina research for the past several years at Montana State University and claims the crop can provide growers with a high value crop with relatively low input costs. Production acreage in Montana has increased from just 450 acres in 2004 to between 20,000 to 40,000 acres planted this year.
Several other states, including North Dakota, are currently raising camelina and looking at expanding acreage in the future.
When it comes to fuel production, biodiesel is the most efficient form of alternative fuels, according to Johnson. In terms of gasoline and diesel fuel production, for each calorie expended in the extraction and manufacture of these products we recover 0.8 calories of energy. Ethanol production returns 1.1 calories for each calorie expended, but for biodiesel, for each calorie expended 3.5 to 5.2 calories of energy are recovered.
And, camelina is a superior oil when it come to biodiesel. The oil contains a high amount of linolenic fatty acid, which usually leads to a short oil life before it turns rancid. However, the camelina oil also contains a high level of vitamin E that serves as an anti-oxidant and extends the oil's shelf life.
The high linolenic content is important to biodiesel production, since it gives the product a pour point of around -15 degrees Fahrenheit, which is considerably lower than the other oils offer and is important for users in this region of the country.
Pilgeram also noted that at least five biodiesel companies in Montana will be utilitzing camelina oil in 2008.
Agronomically, camelina is an ideal crop for this region, since it produces well with about 10 inches of rain and requires a low rate of fertilization and pesticide use, and does well on marginal land, Johnson explained.
“We can get maximum yield with up to 10 inches of rainfall,” he said. “After that we start having disease problems.”
Johnson claims the biodiesel industry needs to look to a new generation of feedstocks if it is going to be successful.
“The future of biodiesel is going to be what happens in the next generation,” he said. “Right now all of the oilseeds that we use to make biodiesel, whether it be soybeans, sunflower, canola or mustard, are competing against a world food market. We need to start looking at non-food crops, or the next generation of crops, for biodiesel production.”
These next generation crops should be lower in cost, because they aren't competing for food use. These sources include using algae, where the technology is five to 10 years away, the tropical plant jatropha, which is three to seven years away, and camelina, where the technology is here now.
Camelina has one more advantage - a meal by-product that can be successfully used in beef, dairy, poultry and fish rations. Cold-pressed camelina meal contains a residual oil of 8 to 11 percent and this oil contains 34 to 38 percent omega 3 fatty acids and very high levels of vitamin E.
The meal is also an excellent source of protein and is very low in ash content.
Beef feeding trials are currently underway at Montana State University that show feedlot daily rates of gain were higher with a ration containing 3.5 percent camelina meal than rations containing 3.5 and 7.0 percent soybean meal.
It may have been dubbed “false flax” in the past, but many feel there is nothing false about the future of camelina as one of the new sources for biodiesel production.
From Wikipedia we have:
Camelina sativa, usually known in English as gold-of-pleasure or false flax, also occasionally wild flax, linseed dodder, camelina, German sesame, and Siberian oilseed, is a flowering plant in the family Brassicaceae which includes mustard, cabbage, rapeseed, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts. It is native to Northern Europe and to Central Asian areas, but has been introduced to North America, possibly as a weed in flax.
It has been traditionally cultivated as an oilseed crop to produce vegetable oil and animal feed. There is ample archeological evidence to show it has been grown in Europe for at least 3,000 years. The earliest findsites include the Neolithic levels at Auvernier, Switzerland (dated to the second millennium BC), the Chalcolithic level at Pefkakia in Greece (dated to the third millennium BC), and Sucidava-Celei, Romania (circa 2200 BC). During the Bronze age and Iron age it was an important agricultural crop in northern Greece beyond the current range of the olive.  It apparently continued to be grown at the time of the Roman Empire, although its Greek and Latin names are not known. According to Zohary and Hopf, until the 1940's C. sativa was an important oil crop in eastern and central Europe, and currently has continued to be cultivated in a few parts of Europe for its seed which was used, for example, in oil lamps (until the modern harnessing of natural and propane and electricity) and as an edible oil.
The crop is now being researched due to its exceptionally high levels (up to 45%) of omega-3 fatty acids, which is uncommon in vegetable sources. Over 50% of the fatty acids in cold pressed Camelina oil are polyunsaturated. The major components are alpha-linolenic acid - C18:3 (omega-3-fatty acid, approx 35-45%) and linoleic acid - C18:2 (omega-6 fatty acid, approx 15-20%). The oil is also very rich in natural antioxidants, such as tocopherols, making this highly stable oil very resistant to oxidation and rancidity. It has 1 - 3% erucic acid. The vitamin E content of camelina oil is approximately 110mg/100g. It is well suited for use as a cooking oil. It has an almond-like flavor and aroma. It may become more commonly known and become an important food oil for the future.
Because of its certain apparent health benefits and its technical stability gold-of-pleasure and camelina oil are being added to the growing list of foods considered as functional foods. Gold-of-pleasure is also of interest for its very low requirements for tillage and weed control. This could potentially allow vegetable oil to be produced more cheaply than from traditional oil crops, which would be particularly attractive to biodiesel producers looking for a feedstock cheap enough to allow them to compete with petroleum diesel and gasoline. Great Plains - The Camelina Company began research efforts with camelina over 10 years ago. They are currently contracting with growers throughout the U.S. and Canada to grow camelina for biodiesel production. A company in Seattle, Targeted Growth, is also developing camelina.
The subspecies C. sativa subsp. linicola is considered a weed in flax fields. In fact, attempts to separate its seed from flax seeds with a winnowing machine over the years have selected for seeds which are similar in size to flax seeds, an example of Vavilovian mimicry.