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Biodiesel is renewable, bio-degradable, non-toxic, and can be directly used in diesel engines without further modification. Biodiesel production is an important area of research due to the environmental advantages of biofuels compared to fossil fuels. However, in Canada and all over the world, the dominant feedstocks for biodiesel production are edible oils such as soybeans and canola. These feedstocks compete with food and feed supply, which has raised a heated debate on “fuel vs food”. To address this, research and industry have reoriented themselves to develop energy crops outside the food chain, and that can be grown in marginal land with less water and nutrient requirements.

The province of Nova Scotia has abundant marginal land suitable for growing dedicated energy crops. In addition, farm operations require significant amounts of liquid fuels, with over 64% of energy costs on Nova Scotia’s farms attributed to vehicle fuels, mainly gasoline and diesel. This creates a great opportunity for farmers in Nova Scotia to produce biodiesel from energy crops grown on their land.

Choosing the best energy crop to use for biofuel production depends on the characteristics of a specific region. It is essential to identify plant species suitable to local cultivation conditions to increase the overall economic viability of biodiesel production. For the past decade, extensive research has recognized Camelina sativa as a promising energy crop for biodiesel production in North America. Camelina has a number of advantages over other traditional oil crops, including wide adaptability to harsh weather conditions, and low water, fertilizer and pesticide requirements. It can be grown on marginal land, and can be used as a rotation crop with wheat, corn and sorghum.

Camelina sativa

It is reported that the oil yield of camelina is higher than those of soybean, linseed and mustard seeds, and is similar to that of canola. However, the overall production cost is substantially lower than these oil crop due to a lower agricultural input and no or less maintenance needed. Recently, Canadian researchers demonstrated that the production of camelina biodiesel was environmentally superior to canola biodiesel in terms of estimated greenhouse emissions and net energy ratio. Although the value of camelina as an energy crop has been highly recognized to date, camelina biodiesel has not been used commercially. There is also a scarcity of research on the conversion of camelina into biodiesel, as well as on the evaluation of the properties of camelina biodiesel and on the utilization of seed meal and glycerol generated form camelina biodiesel production.

Professor Meng He at Dalhousie University is now working on evaluation of the feasibility of camelina at all levels, including the extraction of camelina oil, conversion of oil into biodiesel, purification of crude biodiesel, characterization of the fuel properties of biodiesel and evaluation of the byproducts as amendments to solid biofuels. In the future, Dr. He may look into aviation fuel production from camelina biodiesel.

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