The Afghan Energy Project


Distorted Oil Reserve Figures Create Biofuel Opportunities in Asia

November 24, 2009 - by John Daly, Oil Price

The recent revelations of a International Energy Administration whistleblower that the IEA may have distorted key oil projections under intense U.S. pressure is, if true (and whistleblowers rarely come forward to advance their careers), a slow-burning thermonuclear explosion on future global oil production. The Bush administration’s actions in pressuring the IEA to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves have the potential to throw governments’ long-term planning into chaos.

Whatever the reality, rising long term global demands seem certain to outstrip production in the next decade, especially given the high and rising costs of developing new super-fields such as Kazakhstan’s offshore Kashagan and Brazil’s southern Atlantic Jupiter and Carioca fields, which will require billions in investments before their first barrels of oil are produced.

In such a scenario, additives and substitutes such as biofuels will play an ever-increasing role by stretching beleaguered production quotas. As market forces and rising prices drive this technology to the forefront, one of the richest potential production areas has been totally overlooked by investors up to now – Central Asia. Formerly the USSR’s cotton “plantation,” the region is poised to become a major player in the production of biofuels if sufficient foreign investment can be procured. Unlike Brazil, where biofuel is manufactured largely from sugarcane, or the United States, where it is primarily distilled from corn, Central Asia’s ace resource is an indigenous plant, Camelina sativa.

Of the former Soviet Caucasian and Central Asian republics, those clustered around the shores of the Caspian, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have seen their economies boom because of record-high energy prices, while Turkmenistan is waiting in the wings as a rising producer of natural gas.

Farther to the east, in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, geographical isolation and relatively scant hydrocarbon resources relative to their Western Caspian neighbors have largely inhibited their ability to cash in on rising global energy demands up to now. Mountainous Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan remain largely dependent for their electrical needs on their Soviet-era hydroelectric infrastructure, but their heightened need to generate winter electricity has led to autumnal and winter water discharges, in turn severely impacting the agriculture of their western downstream neighbors Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

What these three downstream countries do have however is a Soviet-era legacy of agricultural production, which in Uzbekistan’s and Turkmenistan case was largely directed towards cotton production, while Kazakhstan, beginning in the 1950s with Khrushchev’s “Virgin Lands” programs, has become a major producer of wheat. Based on my discussions with Central Asian government officials, given the thirsty demands of cotton monoculture, foreign proposals to diversify agrarian production towards biofuel would have great appeal in Astana, Ashgabat and Tashkent and to a lesser extent Astana for those hardy investors willing to bet on the future, especially as a plant indigenous to the region has already proven itself in trials.

Known in the West as false flax, wild flax, linseed dodder, German sesame and Siberian oilseed, camelina is attracting increased scientific interest for its oleaginous qualities, with several European and American companies already investigating how to produce it in commercial quantities for biofuel. In January Japan Airlines undertook a historic test flight using camelina-based bio-jet fuel, becoming the first Asian carrier to experiment with flying on fuel derived from sustainable feedstocks during a one-hour demonstration flight from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. The test was the culmination of a 12-month evaluation of camelina’s operational performance capability and potential commercial viability.

As an alternative energy source, camelina has much to recommend it. It has a high oil content low in saturated fat. In contrast to Central Asia’s thirsty “king cotton,” camelina is drought-resistant and immune to spring freezing, requires less fertilizer and herbicides, and can be used as a rotation crop with wheat, which would make it of particular interest in Kazakhstan, now Central Asia’s major wheat exporter. Another bonus of camelina is its tolerance of poorer, less fertile conditions. An acre sown with camelina can produce up to 100 gallons of oil and when planted in rotation with wheat, camelina can increase wheat production by 15 percent. A ton (1000 kg) of camelina will contain 350 kg of oil, of which pressing can extract 250 kg. Nothing in camelina production is wasted as after processing, the plant’s debris can be used for livestock silage. Camelina silage has a particularly attractive concentration of omega-3 fatty acids that make it a particularly fine livestock feed candidate that is just now gaining recognition in the U.S. and Canada. Camelina is fast growing, produces its own natural herbicide (allelopathy) and competes well against weeds when an even crop is established. According to Britain’s Bangor University’s Centre for Alternative Land Use, “Camelina could be an ideal low-input crop suitable for bio-diesel production, due to its lower requirements for nitrogen fertilizer than oilseed rape.”

Camelina, a branch of the mustard family, is indigenous to both Europe and Central Asia and hardly a new crop on the scene: archaeological evidence indicates it has been cultivated in Europe for at least three millennia to produce both vegetable oil and animal fodder.

Field trials of production in Montana, currently the center of U.S. camelina research, showed a wide range of results of 330-1,700 lbs of seed per acre, with oil content varying between 29 and 40%. Optimal seeding rates have been determined to be in the 6-8 lb per acre range, as the seeds’ small size of 400,000 seeds per lb can create problems in germination to achieve an optimal plant density of around 9 plants per sq. ft.

Camelina’s potential could allow Uzbekistan to begin breaking out of its most dolorous legacy, the imposition of a cotton monoculture that has warped the country’s attempts at agrarian reform since achieving independence in 1991. Beginning in the late 19th century, the Russian government determined that Central Asia would become its cotton plantation to feed Moscow’s growing textile industry. The process was accelerated under the Soviets. While Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were also ordered by Moscow to sow cotton, Uzbekistan in particular was singled out to produce “white gold.”

By the end of the 1930s the Soviet Union had become self-sufficient in cotton; five decades later it had become a major exporter of cotton, producing more than one-fifth of the world’s production, concentrated in Uzbekistan, which produced 70 percent of the Soviet Union’s output.

Try as it might to diversify, in the absence of alternatives Tashkent remains wedded to cotton, producing about 3.6 million tons annually, which brings in more than $1 billion while constituting approximately 60 percent of the country’s hard currency income.

Beginning in the mid-1960s the Soviet government’s directives for Central Asian cotton production largely bankrupted the region’s scarcest resource, water. Cotton uses about 3.5 acre feet of water per acre of plants, leading Soviet planners to divert ever-increasing volumes of water from the region’s two primary rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, into inefficient irrigation canals, resulting in the dramatic shrinkage of the rivers’ final destination, the Aral Sea. The Aral, once the world’s fourth-largest inland sea with an area of 26,000 square miles, has shrunk to one-quarter its original size in one of the 20th century’s worst ecological disasters.

And now, the dollars and cents. Dr. Bill Schillinger at Washington State University recently described camelina’s business model to Capital Press as: “At 1,400 pounds per acre at 16 cents a pound, camelina would bring in $224 per acre; 28-bushel white wheat at $8.23 per bushel would garner $230.”

Central Asia has the land, the farms, the irrigation infrastructure and a modest wage scale in comparison to America or Europe – all that’s missing is the foreign investment. U.S. investors have the cash and access to the expertise of America’s land grant universities. What is certain is that biofuel’s market share will grow over time; less certain is who will reap the benefits of establishing it as a viable concern in Central Asia.

If the recent past is anything to go by it is unlikely to be American and European investors, fixated as they are on Caspian oil and gas.

But while the Japanese flight experiments indicate Asian interest, American investors have the academic expertise, if they are willing to follow the Silk Road into developing a new market. Certainly anything that lessens water usage and pesticides, diversifies crop production and improves the lot of their agrarian population will receive most careful consideration from Central Asia’s governments, and farming and vegetable oil processing plants are not only much cheaper than pipelines, they can be built more quickly.

And jatropha’s biofuel potential? Another story for another time.

This article was submitted by who focus on Fossil Fuels, Alternative Energy, Metals, and Geopolitics. To find out more visit their website at:


Putnam, D.H., J.T. Budin, L.A. Field, and W.M. Breene. 1993. Camelina: A promising low-input oilseed. p. 314-322. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

Camelina: A Promising Low-Input Oilseed

D.H. Putnam, J.T. Budin, L.A. Field, and W.M. Breene

    1. Yield Potential
    2. Winter Seeding
    3. Compatibility with Cover Crops
    4. Fertilizer and Water Needs, Insects and Diseases
    5. Weed Control
    1. Seed Composition, Oil Content and Meal Quality
    2. Fatty Acid Composition and Use of the Oil
  7. Table 1
  8. Table 2
  9. Table 3
  10. Table 4
  11. Table 5
  12. Table 6
  13. Fig. 1
  14. Fig. 2

The production of edible oil from crops has enjoyed unremitting growth during the latter part of the 20th century. In a six year period in the 1980s, a 26% increase in production of oils from ten oilseeds was realized. Much of this growth has been in tropical oils (oil palm, Elaeis guinensis L.) or high quality (low saturated fat) edible oils such as soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.], canola (Brassica napus L.), and sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.). This trend shows no signs of relenting. The demand for edible oils is increasing most in the heavily populated regions of South Asia, China, and the Far East, where vegetable oils are an important part of the diet, but demand for meal and oil is also high in the European and American markets and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The development of soybean, sunflower, and canola, the three most significant edible oils for temperate climates, represent important new crop successes (Robinson 1973; Hymowitz 1990; Downey 1990). It is likely that these crops will continue to expand in hectarage, given increasing demand for high quality edible oils and meals, the wide adaptation of these crops, and new, improved cultivars. However, each of these major oilseeds has its limitations. For example, soybean, though ideal for most regions of the corn belt, is not well adapted to more northerly regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. Canola and sunflower are better adapted to northern climates but have high nitrogen requirements (especially canola), and are susceptible to insect or bird predation as well as diseases. These oilseed crops are not often suitable to marginal lands (low moisture, low fertility, or saline soils). In recent years, there has been increasing interest in developing agronomic systems with low requirements for fertilizer, pesticides, and energy, and which provide better soil erosion control than conventional systems (NRC 1989). This led us to examine the viability of developing camelina as an oilseed with reduced input requirements and as a crop well suited to marginal soils, or soil- and resource-conserving agronomic practices.


Camelina sativa (L.) Crantz., Brassicaceae (falseflax, linseed dodder, or gold-of-pleasure) originated in the Mediterranean to Central Asia. It is an annual or winter annual that attains heights of 30 to 90 cm tall (Fig. 1) and has branched smooth or hairy stems that become woody at maturity. Leaves are arrow-shaped, sharp-pointed, 5 to 8 cm long with smooth edges. It produces prolific small, pale yellow or greenish-yellow flowers with 4 petals. Seed pods are 6 to 14 mm long and superficially resemble the bolls of flax. Seeds are small (0.7 mm x 1.5 mm), pale yellow-brown, oblong, rough, with a ridged surface. Morphology and distribution of camelina species has been described by Polish and Russian botanists (Mirek 1981). Camelina has been shown to be allelopathic (Grummer 1961; Lovett and Duffield 1981).

Camelina is listed as being adapted to the flax-growing regions of the northern Midwest (Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota) (NC-121 1981). It is primarily a minor weed in flax and not often a problem in other crops and does not have seed dormancy (Robinson 1987). However, the adaptation of camelina as a crop has not been widely explored. Similar to the other Cruciferous species, it is likely best adapted to cooler climates where excessive heat during flowering is not important. There are several winter annual biotypes available in the germplasm, and it is possible that camelina could be grown as a winter crop in areas with very mild winters. Camelina is short-seasoned (85 to 100 d) so that it could be incorporated into double cropping systems during cool periods of growth, possibly in more tropical environments.


Although camelina is known in North America primarily as a weed, it was known as "gold of pleasure" to ancient European agriculturists. Cultivation probably began in Neolithic times, and by the Iron Age in Europe when the number of crop plants approximately doubled, camelina was commonly used as an oil-supplying plant (Knorzer 1978). Cultivation, as evidenced from carbonized seed, has been shown to occur in regions surrounding the North Sea during the Bronze Age. Camelina monocultures occurred in the Rhine River Valley as early as 600 BC Camelina probably spread in mixtures with flax and as monocultures, similarly to small grains, which also often spread as crop mixtures. It was cultivated in antiquity from Rome to southeastern Europe and the Southwestern Asian steppes (Knorzer 1978).

Camelina declined as a crop during medieval times due to unknown factors, but continued to coevolve as a weed with flax, which probably accounts for its introduction to the Americas. Like rapeseed oil, camelina oil has been used as an industrial oil after the industrial revolution. The seeds have been fed to caged birds, and the straw used for fiber. There have been scattered hectarages in Europe in modern times, mostly in Germany, Poland, and the USSR, and some efforts were made in the 1980s at germplasm screening and plant breeding (Enge and Olsson 1986; Seehuber and Dambroth 1983; Seehuber and Dambroth 1984: Kartamyshev 1985). Camelina has been evaluated to some extent in Canada (Downey 1971) and to a larger extent in Minnesota where R.G. Robinson conducted agronomic studies on camelina (Robinson 1987). However, there has been relatively little research conducted on this crop worldwide, and its full agronomic and breeding potential remains largely unexplored.


Yield Potential

Field studies on camelina have been conducted at the University of Minnesota for over 30 years (Robinson 1987). In one 9-year/location yield comparison, camelina was shown to have a yield potential similar to that of many other Cruciferae (Table 1), but it differed in seed size, maturity, lodging resistance, and oil percentage. Yields of camelina cultivars (Table 2) have been in the 600 to 1,700 kg/ha range at Rosemount, Minnesota (45° N latitude), averaging about 1,100 to 1,200 kg/ha over many years of trials. It should be noted that the yield of many of these oilseeds (especially B. napus) has been improved significantly through plant breeding and improved agronomic practices, whereas camelina has largely not had the benefit of plant breeding. Under Minnesota conditions, yields of all spring-sown cruciferous oilseeds are much higher at more northerly locations (1,736 kg/ha long term average canola yield--Roseau, Minnesota), compared with yields at Rosemount, which is located near St. Paul. Camelina is much smaller seeded and earlier maturing than the other cruciferae tested. Lodging was comparable to or fact slightly superior to the other cruciferae oilseeds tested (Table 1), and there was significant variation for lodging among camelina varieties (Table 2).

Some variation in camelina maturity, lodging resistance, seed weight, and oil percentage was exhibited by the lines tested and by other germplasm screening not reported here, but many of these lines were similar in yield at Rosemount (Table 2). Certainly increases in yield might be generated through plant breeding. German plant breeders using the single-seed descent method, have found transgressions over parental lines in many yield traits for camelina, demonstrating both the high yield potential and capacity for yield improvement in this species (Seehuber et al. 1987). This experience indicates that camelina, unlike some wild species undergoing domestication, exhibits yield potential and oil content which are both currently agronomically acceptable and amenable to improvement through plant breeding.

Winter Seeding

The practice of broadcasting camelina seed on frozen ground in late November or early December has been tested over a number of years at Rosemount, and the practice appears to be viable (Table 3). In one four-year study, crops were sown with standard farm machinery on large plots. Camelina was sown in late fall on stubble, without seedbed preparation or herbicides, or conventionally in the spring and compared with flax sown conventionally and sprayed with herbicides (dalapon and MCPA). Performance of winter-sown camelina was equal or superior to conventionally-sown flax in these studies.

To confirm these results, a separate two-year study was conducted where camelina and flax were surface-seeded by hand in both winter and spring on tilled or stubble ground, broadcast or by machine without herbicides (Table 4). In 1990-91, surface seeding in winter was unsuccessful with flax, but was successful with camelina, producing significantly earlier emergence and fewer weed problems. However, in the 1989-90 study, the winter seeding was unsuccessful for both crops, probably due to an open winter. Surface seeding of camelina seemed to work better under no-till conditions, possibly due to superior microsite protection for the small seed and seedling, and prevention of wind dispersion of the seed. Machine planting was no better than broadcasting in the spring sowings. Machine planting in December was not feasible. A winter-sown stand of camelina emerges mid-April in Minnesota, before most other spring-sown crops, and before significant weed flushes.

These trials showed that camelina sown without herbicide or tillage yielded as well or better than flax grown conventionally. These studies also showed that camelina, unlike flax, can be surface-sown on frozen ground in the late fall or winter or early spring and produce good stands and yields comparable to conventionally-sown Cruciferae crops.

Compatibility with Cover Crops

In a three-year study, winter-sown camelina yielded an average of 9% more when seeded with a fall-sown cover crop than without (Table 5). In this and in subsequent studies (Robinson 1987), camelina has produced better stands, weed control, and yields when planted in the winter with a cover crop compared with seeding after conventional tillage in the spring or surface seeding on bare ground in the fall. These data indicate that camelina is highly compatible with cover crops used for fall and early spring soil erosion control.

Fertilizer and Water Needs, Insects and Diseases

The soil fertility needs of camelina are likely similar to those of other crucifers with the same yield potential. Camelina has been shown to respond to nitrogen similarly to mustard or flax (Robinson 1987).

Bramm et al. (1990) found that camelina was better able to compensate for early water deficits than flax or poppy. This drought-avoidance characteristic might make camelina better suited to drier regions than other oilseeds.

Downy mildew (Peronospora camelinae), a white or gray mold on the upper part of the stem is sometimes observed in camelina (Robinson 1987). Transmission of Turnip Yellow Mosaic virus by camelina seed has been reported (Hein 1984). However, camelina has been reported to be highly resistant to blackleg (Lepotosphaeria maculans) which is a significant disease problem with canola (Salisbury 1987). Camelina has also been found to be very resistant to Alternaria brassicae, compared with turnip rape or swede rape (Grontoft 1986; Conn et al. 1988).

Flea beetle [Phyllotreta cruciferae (Goeze)] is also sometimes observed on camelina, although it is not nearly the problem it is with canola. However, in extensive multi-year small-plot trials, damage due to insects and diseases in camelina have not been sufficient to warrant control measures (Robinson 1987).

Weed Control

The compatibility of canola with commonly used herbicides is not widely known. In one three-year trial, camelina was not injured by trifluralin incorporated either in the fall or spring, but yields were not improved over winter-seeded camelina planted without herbicide (Robinson 1987). No herbicides are currently labeled for use with camelina, and herbicides would comprise a significant cost of production should any in the future even become labeled for such use. These data however, suggest that the use of preemergence herbicides may not be necessary in camelina if it is seeded in the winter or very early spring. Winter-seeded camelina emerges earlier than conventionally seeded camelina or other cruciferous crops, and normally before any substantial weed germination in the spring. The seedlings are quite cold-tolerant, surviving several freezes in the spring. For example, in one trial, a May 12 frost (-2°C) injured mustard, rape, and flax, but did not affect camelina (Robinson 1987). Individual camelina seedlings are fairly small and non-competitive, but this early-emerging, cold-tolerant characteristic, especially when planted at high densities, provides excellent competition with many annual weeds.

Perennial or biennial weeds are likely to be more difficult to control in camelina. However, the competitiveness of camelina with annual weeds presents the possibility that camelina could be grown both without tillage and without preemergence weed control, both significant costs of production and environmental risk-factors.


Seed Composition, Oil Content and Meal Quality

The oil content of camelina seed has ranged from 29 to 39% in our studies. There appears to be some variation for oil content among the cultivars tested (Table 2), but the germplasm has not been widely characterized. Studies in Germany have shown oil content to range between 37 and 41% and seed protein content 23 to 30% (Marquard and Kuhlmann 1986). Camelina appears to be similar in protein content and elemental composition to flax (Linum usitatissimum L.), with the exception of a higher sulfur content (Robinson 1987). Camelina meal is comparable to soybean meal, containing 45 to 47% crude protein and 10 to 11% fiber (Korsrud et al. 1978).

Zero to trace levels of volatile isothiocyanates have been found in camelina meal (Peredi 1969; Korsrud et al. 1978; Sang and Salisbury 1987) compared with crambe (Crambe abyssinica Hochst) or industrial rapeseed meal which contains substantially higher levels of glucosinolates. Laboratory mice fed camelina meal gained less weight than those fed casein or egg control diets, but more than those fed crambe meal (Korsrud et al. 1978). Although some essential amino acids may have been limiting in the camelina meal diets, some growth depressing factor other than glucosinolates may have been present (Korsrud et al. 1978).

Camelina has been fed to wild (Fogelfors 1984) or caged (Mabberly 1987) birds, and this is one potential use. Other potential uses include applications as an ornamental, a cover or smother crop, a border row for experimental field plots, or in dried flower arrangements (Robinson 1987).

Fatty Acid Composition and Use of the Oil

Oil was extracted from camelina and other oilseeds by the Soxhlet method using diethyl ether, and fatty acids determined using the method of Enig and Ackerman (1987). The fatty acids in camelina oil are primarily unsaturated, with only about 12% being saturated (Fig. 2). About 54% of the fatty acids are polyunsaturated, primarily linoleic (18:2) and linolenic (18:3), and 34% are monounsaturated, primarily oleic (18:1) and eicosenoic (20:1) (Table 6).

Our values for fatty acid composition of Camelina sativa are generally similar to those reported for Camelina rumelica (Umarov et al. 1972), or other reports on Camelina sativa (Seehuber and Dambroth 1983). With its low saturated fat content camelina oil could be considered a high quality edible oil, but it is also quite highly polyunsaturated, which makes it susceptible to autoxidation, thus giving it a shorter shelf life. With an iodine value of 144, it is classified as a drying oil (Robinson 1987). Camelina oil has been used as a replacement for petroleum oil in pesticide sprays (Robinson and Nelson 1975).

Camelina oil is less unsaturated than linseed (flax) oil and more unsaturated than sunflower or canola oils (Fig. 2, Table 6). The balance of saturated vs. unsaturated fats is similar to that of soybean, but camelina contains significantly higher proportion of C18:3 fatty acids. Camelina seems to be unique among the species evaluated in having a high eicosenoic acid content in the oil, but the potential value or disadvantage of this is currently unclear.

The erucic acid content is probably too low for use in the same applications as crambe or high erucic acid rapeseed, where a high erucic acid content is desired. Most of the camelina lines evaluated contain 2 to 4% erucic acid (Table 6), which is greater than the maximum (2%) limits for canola-quality edible oil. However, in a preliminary germplasm screen, we have identified lines with zero erucic acid content (data not shown), so it is likely that this trait could readily be removed through plant breeding, as it has been with canola.

The lack of clear utilization patterns for camelina oil currently limit its use. The fatty acid composition does not currently uniquely fit any particular use. Manipulation of camelina fatty acid content, which has been achieved in other oilseeds, could greatly improve the utilization possibilities of this crop.


When analyzing the potential role of a new crop, unique attributes of that species must be established; it must contribute something not already provided by existing crop species. It is not sufficient, for example, for a crop simply to become "another oilseed." There must be unique and compelling properties of that crop to provide incentives for further development.

The research reported here has shown that camelina possesses unique agronomic traits which could substantially reduce and perhaps eliminate requirements for tillage and annual weed control. The compatibility of camelina with reduced tillage systems, cover crops, its low seeding rate, and competitiveness with weeds could enable this crop not only to have the lowest input cost of any oilseed, but also be compatible with the goals of reducing energy and pesticide use, and protecting soils from erosion. Camelina is a potential alternative oilseed for stubble systems, winter surface seeding, double cropping, or for marginal lands. At a seeding rate of 6 to 14 kg/ha, camelina could be inexpensively applied by air or machine-broadcast in early winter or spring on stubble ground without special equipment. Although these unimproved lines have been shown to be agronomically acceptable, modern history has indicated the Cruciferae to be highly manipulatable through plant breeding or biotechnology, and so the promise of improvement is also high. The meal does not contain glucosinolates, but the fatty acid composition of the seed needs to be modified to provide a role for the crop in the oilseeds market.

Lack of clear utilization patterns currently limit the crop, and further work on oil, meal, and seed use is required. The possibilities of using camelina in human food, as birdseed, as an edible or industrial oil, a fuel, or other applications remains largely unexplored. Further utilization and breeding research is required to more fully make use of the unique agronomic qualities that this crop possesses.


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  • Umarov, A.U., T.V. Chernenko, and A.L. Markman. 1972. The oils of some plants of the family cruciferae. Khimiya Prirodnykh Soedinenii (USSR) 1:24-27.

Table 1. Comparison of Camelina with other oilseedsz.

Species Yield (kg/ha)y Oil (%) Seed size (g/1,000 seeds) Maturity date Lodging (%)
Camelina sativa 1277 31 0.6-1.2 7/1-7/28 20-30
Crambe abysinica 1317 32 6-8 7/15-8/10 30-50
Brassica napus 1273 39 2.9-4.0 8/1-8/20 40-80
Brassica hirta 1319 24 4.8-5.1 7/20-8/3 20-80
zData from trials conducted 1960-1985 in Rosemount and Roseau, MN; 9 year/location means (Robinson 1987).
yYields of some species, especially B. napus have improved due to plant breeding efforts since these trials were conducted. Yields of all cruciferae were at least 50% higher at Roseau (near Canada) vs. Rosemount in these trials.

Table 2. Yield and characteristics of Camelina sativa lines grown in Rosemount, Minnesota, 1991.

Days from planting to
Line (origin) Full bloom Maturity Height (cm) Lodging ratingz 1,000 seed weight (g) Seed yield (kg/ha) Oil (%)
C028 (USSR) 42 77 58 7.2 1.08 1007 37.5
C037 (Germany) 45 79 67 3.4 0.98 1085 35.3
C046 (Germany) 45 78 63 1.6 1.14 1159 37.3
C053 (Germany) 46 80 64 4.2 0.72 1065 36.4
C054 (Germany) 45 81 68 1.0 1.22 1140 35.1
C082 (Germany) 45 80 67 3.1 0.94 1218 35.9
C088 (Germany) 45 79 60 2.4 0.83 1148 35.5
'Robbie' (USA) 46 78 56 1.5 0.65 1067 34.3
LSD (P<=0.05) 2 1 6 1.8 0.10 173 2.4
C.V. (%) 4 2 6 39 7 11 ---
z1 = no lodging; 10 = severe lodging.

Table 3. Comparison of winter-sown camelina with spring-sown camelina and flax.

Seed yield (kg/ha)
Cropz Sowing date Sowing rate (kg/ha) Tillage Weed control (%)y 1970 1971 1972 1973 Ave.
Camelina Early Dec. 12 No 77 862 840 1243 1747 1176
Camelina Mid-April 8 Yes 69 762 840 1288 1725 1154
Flax Mid-April 56 Yes 76 963 336 952 1848 1019
LSD (P<=0.05)
202 157 146 146 78
zCamelina was grown without herbicides and flax was sprayed with dalapon and MCPA. Data from Robinson (1987).
yPercent of weeds controlled estimated by visual rating (100 = least weedy).

Table 4. Effect of tillage, seeding method, and time of seeding on camelina and flax, Rosemount, Minnesota, 1990-91.

Days from planting to
Treatments Stand (%) Full bloom Maturity Lodging ratingz Weeds (%)y Height (cm) Seed yield (kg/ha)
No-till stubble
Flax winter scatter 4 6/15 7/21 1 100 52 91
Flax spring scatter 35 6/15 7/22 1 75 51 801
Flax spring machine 98 6/15 7/22 1 61 47 851
Camelina winter scatter 93 6/1 6/28 1 16 59 749
Camelina spring scatter 64 6/9 7/7 1 48 41 1008
Camelina spring machine 100 6/13 7/12 2 63 52 888
Flax winter scatter 3 6/14 7/21 1 100 51 142
Flax spring scatter 68 6/12 7/21 1 80 56 837
Flax spring machine 100 6/14 7/21 2 85 53 937
Camelina winter scatter 71 6/1 6/30 2 51 60 850
Camelina spring scatter 95 6/12 7/8 2 34 57 1147
Camelina spring machine 98 6/11 7/9 2 42 55 865
LSD (P<=0.05) 28 4 3 n.s. 36 15 312
C.V. (%) 27 22 15 50 32 17 28
z1 = no lodging; 10 = severe lodging.
yWeed pressure estimated by visual rating, with 100 = most weedy, 0 = least weedy.

Table 5. Influence of a cover crop on winter-sown camelina performance. Camelina was planted broadcast-sown in early December on either bare ground or on flax stubble sown in late August or early September; data from Robinson (1987).

Seed yield (kg/ha)
Treatment Stand (%) Maturity Weed control (%)z Lodging (%) 1971 1972 1973 Ave.
No cover crop 77 7/11 78 37 840 1243 1747 1277
Flax cover crop 89 7/9 83 18 1120 1176 1870 1389
LSD (P<=0.05) --- --- --- --- 157 146 146 90
zPercent of weeds controlled estimated by visual rating (100 = least weedy).

Table 6. Fatty acid composition of camelina compared with 5 other oilseeds, grown at Rosemount, Minnesota, 1991.

Fatty acid content (% of oil)
Fatty acid Canola Soybean Sunflower Crambe Flax Camelina
Palmitic (16:0) 6.19 10.44 6.05 2.41 5.12 7.80
Stearic (18:0) 0 3.95 3.83 0.40 4.56 2.96
Oleic (18:1) 61.33 27.17 17.36 18.36 24.27 16.77
Linoleic (18:2) 21.55 45.49 69.26 10.67 16.25 23.08
Linolenic (18:3) 6.55 7.16 0 5.09 45.12 31.20
Arachidic (20:0) 0 0 0 0.50 0 0
Eicosenoic (20:1) 0 0 0 2.56 0 11.99
Erucic (22:1) 0 0 0 54.00 0.88 2.80
Other FA 4.38 5.79 3.5 6.01 3.80 3.40

Fig. 1. Camelina plant nearing maturity. Camelina superficially resembles flax.

Fig. 2. Percent saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in camelina compared with other oilseeds grown at Rosemount, Minnesota, 1991. Unidentified fatty acids are those which did not match standards. Camelina is similar to soybean in balance of saturated vs. unsaturated fats, but is higher in C18:3 fatty acids.
Last update September 11, 1997 aw

For non-techical background on biofuel, here is a recent Wikipedia article with links to relevant sources:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Biofuels are a wide range of fuels which are in some way derived from biomass. The term covers solid biomass, liquid fuels and various biogases.[1] Biofuels are gaining increased public and scientific attention, driven by factors such as oil price spikes, the need for increased energy security, and concern over greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

Bioethanol is an alcohol made by fermenting the sugar components of plant materials and it is made mostly from sugar and starch crops. With advanced technology being developed, cellulosic biomass, such as trees and grasses, are also used as feedstocks for ethanol production. Ethanol can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a gasoline additive to increase octane and improve vehicle emissions. Bioethanol is widely used in the USA and in Brazil.

Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled greases. Biodiesel can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a diesel additive to reduce levels of particulates, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons from diesel-powered vehicles. Biodiesel is produced from oils or fats using transesterification and is the most common biofuel in Europe.

Biofuels provided 1.8% of the world's transport fuel in 2008. Investment into biofuels production capacity exceeded $4 billion worldwide in 2007 and is growing.[2]

Liquid fuels for transportation

Most transportation fuels are liquids, because vehicles usually require high energy density, as occurs in liquids and solids. High power density can be provided most inexpensively by an internal combustion engine; these engines require clean burning fuels, to keep the engine clean and minimize air pollution.

The fuels that are easiest to burn cleanly are typically liquids and gases. Thus liquids (and gases that can be stored in liquid form) meet the requirements of being both portable and clean burning. Also, liquids and gases can be pumped, which means handling is easily mechanized, and thus less laborious.

First generation biofuels

'First-generation biofuels' are biofuels made from sugar, starch, vegetable oil or animal fats using conventional technology.[3] The basic feedstocks for the production of first generation biofuels are often seeds or grains such as sunflower seeds, which are pressed to yield vegetable oil that can be used in biodiesel, or wheat, which yields starch that is fermented into bioethanol. These feedstocks could instead enter the animal or human food chain, and as the global population has risen their use in producing biofuels has been criticised for diverting food away from the human food chain, leading to food shortages and price rises.

The most common biofuels are listed below.


Neat ethanol on the left (A), gasoline on the right (G) at a filling station in Brazil.

Biologically produced alcohols, most commonly ethanol, and less commonly propanol and butanol, are produced by the action of microorganisms and enzymes through the fermentation of sugars or starches (easiest), or cellulose (which is more difficult). Biobutanol (also called biogasoline) is often claimed to provide a direct replacement for gasoline, because it can be used directly in a gasoline engine (in a similar way to biodiesel in diesel engines).

Ethanol fuel is the most common biofuel worldwide, particularly in Brazil. Alcohol fuels are produced by fermentation of sugars derived from wheat, corn, sugar beets, sugar cane, molasses and any sugar or starch that alcoholic beverages can be made from (like potato and fruit waste, etc.). The ethanol production methods used are enzyme digestion (to release sugars from stored starches), fermentation of the sugars, distillation and drying. The distillation process requires significant energy input for heat (often unsustainable natural gas fossil fuel, but cellulosic biomass such as bagasse, the waste left after sugar cane is pressed to extract its juice, can also be used more sustainably).

The Koenigsegg CCXR Edition at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show. This is an "environmentally friendly" version of the CCX, which can use E85 and E100.

Ethanol can be used in petrol engines as a replacement for gasoline; it can be mixed with gasoline to any percentage. Most existing car petrol engines can run on blends of up to 15% bioethanol with petroleum/gasoline. Ethanol has a smaller energy density than gasoline, which means it takes more fuel (volume and mass) to produce the same amount of work. An advantage of ethanol (CH3CH2OH) is that it has a higher octane rating than ethanol-free gasoline available at roadside gas stations which allows an increase of an engine's compression ratio for increased thermal efficiency. In high altitude (thin air) locations, some states mandate a mix of gasoline and ethanol as a winter oxidizer to reduce atmospheric pollution emissions.

Ethanol is also used to fuel bioethanol fireplaces. As they do not require a chimney and are "flueless", bio ethanol fires [4] are extremely useful for new build homes and apartments without a flue. The downside to these fireplaces, is that the heat output is slightly less than electric and gas fires.

In the current alcohol-from-corn production model in the United States, considering the total energy consumed by farm equipment, cultivation, planting, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides made from petroleum, irrigation systems, harvesting, transport of feedstock to processing plants, fermentation, distillation, drying, transport to fuel terminals and retail pumps, and lower ethanol fuel energy content, the net energy content value added and delivered to consumers is very small. And, the net benefit (all things considered) does little to reduce un-sustainable[citation needed] imported oil and fossil fuels required to produce the ethanol.[5]

Although ethanol-from-corn and other food stocks has implications both in terms of world food prices and limited, yet positive energy yield (in terms of energy delivered to customer/fossil fuels used), the technology has led to the development of cellulosic ethanol. According to a joint research agenda conducted through the U.S. Department of Energy,[6] the fossil energy ratios (FER) for cellulosic ethanol, corn ethanol, and gasoline are 10.3, 1.36, and 0.81, respectively.[7][8][9]

Many car manufacturers are now producing flexible-fuel vehicles (FFV's), which can safely run on any combination of bioethanol and petrol, up to 100% bioethanol. They dynamically sense exhaust oxygen content, and adjust the engine's computer systems, spark, and fuel injection accordingly. This adds initial cost and ongoing increased vehicle maintenance.[citation needed] As with all vehicles, efficiency falls and pollution emissions increase when FFV system maintenance is needed (regardless of the fuel mix being used), but is not performed. FFV internal combustion engines are becoming increasingly complex, as are multiple-propulsion-system FFV hybrid vehicles, which impacts cost, maintenance, reliability, and useful lifetime longevity.[citation needed]

Even dry ethanol has roughly one-third lower energy content per unit of volume compared to gasoline, so larger / heavier fuel tanks are required to travel the same distance, or more fuel stops are required. With large current unsustainable, non-scalable subsidies, ethanol fuel still costs much more per distance traveled than current high gasoline prices in the United States.[10]

Methanol is currently produced from natural gas, a non-renewable fossil fuel. It can also be produced from biomass as biomethanol. The methanol economy is an interesting alternative to get to the hydrogen economy, compared to today's hydrogen production from natural gas. But this process is not the state-of-the-art clean solar thermal energy process, where hydrogen production is directly produced from water.[11]

Butanol is formed by ABE fermentation (acetone, butanol, ethanol) and experimental modifications of the process show potentially high net energy gains with butanol as the only liquid product. Butanol will produce more energy and allegedly can be burned "straight" in existing gasoline engines (without modification to the engine or car),[12] and is less corrosive and less water soluble than ethanol, and could be distributed via existing infrastructures. DuPont and BP are working together to help develop Butanol. E. coli have also been successfully engineered to produce Butanol by hijacking their amino acid metabolism.[13]

Fermentation is not the only route to forming biofuels or bioalcohols. One can obtain methanol, ethanol, butanol or mixed alcohol fuels through pyrolysis of biomass including agricultural waste or algal biomass. The most exciting of these pyrolysis alcoholic fuels is the pyrolysis biobutanol. The product can be made with limited water use and most places in the world. [14]

Green diesel

Green diesel, also known as renewable diesel, is a form of diesel fuel which is derived from renewable feedstock rather than the fossil feedstock used in most diesel fuels. Green diesel feedstock can be sourced from a variety oils including canola, algae, jatropha and salicornia in addition to tallow. Green diesel uses traditional fractional distillation to process the oils, not to be confused with biodiesel which is chemically quite different and processed using transesterification.

“Green Diesel” as commonly known in Ireland should not be confused with dyed green diesel sold at a lower tax rate for agriculture purposes, using the dye allows custom officers to determine if a person is using the cheaper diesel in higher taxed applications such as commercial haulage or cars.[15]


In some countries biodiesel is less expensive than conventional diesel.

Biodiesel is the most common biofuel in Europe. It is produced from oils or fats using transesterification and is a liquid similar in composition to fossil/mineral diesel. Chemically, it consists mostly of fatty acid methyl (or ethyl) esters (FAMEs). Feedstocks for biodiesel include animal fats, vegetable oils, soy, rapeseed, jatropha, mahua, mustard, flax, sunflower, palm oil, hemp, field pennycress, pongamia pinnata and algae. Pure biodiesel (B100) is the lowest emission diesel fuel. Although liquefied petroleum gas and hydrogen have cleaner combustion, they are used to fuel much less efficient petrol engines and are not as widely available.

Biodiesel can be used in any diesel engine when mixed with mineral diesel. In some countries manufacturers cover their diesel engines under warranty for B100 use, although Volkswagen of Germany, for example, asks drivers to check by telephone with the VW environmental services department before switching to B100. B100 may become more viscous at lower temperatures, depending on the feedstock used. In most cases, biodiesel is compatible with diesel engines from 1994 onwards, which use 'Viton' (by DuPont) synthetic rubber in their mechanical fuel injection systems.

Electronically controlled 'common rail' and 'unit injector' type systems from the late 1990s onwards may only use biodiesel blended with conventional diesel fuel. These engines have finely metered and atomized multi-stage injection systems that are very sensitive to the viscosity of the fuel. Many current generation diesel engines are made so that they can run on B100 without altering the engine itself, although this depends on the fuel rail design. Since biodiesel is an effective solvent and cleans residues deposited by mineral diesel, engine filters may need to be replaced more often, as the biofuel dissolves old deposits in the fuel tank and pipes. It also effectively cleans the engine combustion chamber of carbon deposits, helping to maintain efficiency. In many European countries, a 5% biodiesel blend is widely used and is available at thousands of gas stations.[16][17] Biodiesel is also an oxygenated fuel, meaning that it contains a reduced amount of carbon and higher hydrogen and oxygen content than fossil diesel. This improves the combustion of fossil diesel and reduces the particulate emissions from un-burnt carbon.

Biodiesel is also safe to handle and transport because it is as biodegradable as sugar, 10 times less toxic than table salt, and has a high flash point of about 300 F (148 C) compared to petroleum diesel fuel, which has a flash point of 125 F (52 C).[18]

In the USA, more than 80% of commercial trucks and city buses run on diesel. The emerging US biodiesel market is estimated to have grown 200% from 2004 to 2005. "By the end of 2006 biodiesel production was estimated to increase fourfold [from 2004] to more than 1 billion gallons".[19]

Vegetable oil or Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO)

Filtered waste vegetable oil.

Straight unmodified edible vegetable oil is generally not used as fuel, but lower quality oil can be used for this purpose. Used vegetable oil is increasingly being processed into biodiesel, or (more rarely) cleaned of water and particulates and used as a fuel.

Also here, as with 100% biodiesel (B100), to ensure that the fuel injectors atomize the vegetable oil in the correct pattern for efficient combustion, vegetable oil fuel must be heated to reduce its viscosity to that of diesel, either by electric coils or heat exchangers. This is easier in warm or temperate climates. Big corporations like MAN B&W Diesel, Wartsila and Deutz AG as well as a number of smaller companies such as Elsbett offer engines that are compatible with straight vegetable oil, without the need for after-market modifications.

Vegetable oil can also be used in many older diesel engines that do not use common rail or unit injection electronic diesel injection systems. Due to the design of the combustion chambers in indirect injection engines, these are the best engines for use with vegetable oil. This system allows the relatively larger oil molecules more time to burn. Some older engines, especially Mercedes are driven experimentally by enthusiasts without any conversion, a handful of drivers have experienced limited success with earlier pre-"Pumpe Duse" VW TDI engines and other similar engines with direct injection. Several companies like Elsbett or Wolf have developed professional conversion kits and successfully installed hundreds of them over the last decades.

Oils and fats can be hydrogenated to give a diesel substitute. The resulting product is a straight chain hydrocarbon, high in cetane, low in aromatics and sulfur and does not contain oxygen. Hydrogenated oils can be blended with diesel in all proportions Hydrogenated oils have several advantages over biodiesel, including good performance at low temperatures, no storage stability problems and no susceptibility to microbial attack.[20]


Bio ethers (also referred to as fuel ethers or oxygenated fuels) are cost-effective compounds that act as octane rating enhancers. They also enhance engine performance, whilst significantly reducing engine wear and toxic exhaust emissions. Greatly reducing the amount of ground-level ozone, they contribute to the quality of the air we breathe.[21][22]

[edit] Biogas

Pipes carrying biogas

Biogas is methane produced by the process of anaerobic digestion of organic material by anaerobes.[23] It can be produced either from biodegradable waste materials or by the use of energy crops fed into anaerobic digesters to supplement gas yields. The solid byproduct, digestate, can be used as a biofuel or a fertilizer.

Note:Landfill gas is a less clean form of biogas which is produced in landfills through naturally occurring anaerobic digestion. If it escapes into the atmosphere it is a potential greenhouse gas.
  • Farmers can produce biogas from manure from their cows by getting a anaerobic digester (AD).[24]

[edit] Syngas

Syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, is produced by partial combustion of biomass, that is, combustion with an amount of oxygen that is not sufficient to convert the biomass completely to carbon dioxide and water.[20] Before partial combustion the biomass is dried, and sometimes pyrolysed. The resulting gas mixture, syngas, is more efficient than direct combustion of the original biofuel; more of the energy contained in the fuel is extracted.

  • Syngas may be burned directly in internal combustion engines or turbines. The wood gas generator is a wood-fueled gasification reactor mounted on an internal combustion engine.
  • Syngas can be used to produce methanol and hydrogen, or converted via the Fischer-Tropsch process to produce a diesel substitute, or a mixture of alcohols that can be blended into gasoline. Gasification normally relies on temperatures >700°C.
  • Lower temperature gasification is desirable when co-producing biochar but results in a Syngas polluted with tar.

Solid biofuels

Examples include wood, sawdust, grass cuttings, domestic refuse, charcoal, agricultural waste, non-food energy crops (see picture), and dried manure.

When raw biomass is already in a suitable form (such as firewood), it can burn directly in a stove or furnace to provide heat or raise steam. When raw biomass is in an inconvenient form (such as sawdust, wood chips, grass, urban waste wood, agricultural residues), the typical process is to densify the biomass. This process includes grinding the raw biomass to an appropriate particulate size (known as hogfuel), which depending on the densification type can be from 1 to 3 cm (1 in), which is then concentrated into a fuel product. The current types of processes are wood pellet, cube, or puck. The pellet process is most common in Europe and is typically a pure wood product. The other types of densification are larger in size compared to a pellet and are compatible with a broadrange of input feedstocks. The resulting densified fuel is easier to transport and feed into thermal generation systems such as boilers.

A problem with the combustion of raw biomass is that it emits considerable amounts of pollutants such as particulates and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). Even modern pellet boilers generate much more pollutants than oil or natural gas boilers. Pellets made from agricultural residues are usually worse than wood pellets, producing much larger emissions of dioxins and chlorophenols.[25]

Notwithstanding the above noted study, numerous studies have shown that biomass fuels have significantly less impact on the environment than fossil based fuels. Of note is the U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory, Operated by Midwest Research Institute Biomass Power and Conventional Fossil Systems with and without CO2 Sequestration – Comparing the Energy Balance, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Economics Study. Power generation emits significant amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs), mainly carbon dioxide (CO2). Sequestering CO2 from the power plant flue gas can significantly reduce the GHGs from the power plant itself, but this is not the total picture. CO2 capture and sequestration consumes additional energy, thus lowering the plant's fuel-to-electricity efficiency. To compensate for this, more fossil fuel must be procured and consumed to make up for lost capacity.

Taking this into consideration, the global warming potential (GWP), which is a combination of CO2, methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, and energy balance of the system need to be examined using a life cycle assessment. This takes into account the upstream processes which remain constant after CO2 sequestration as well as the steps required for additional power generation. firing biomass instead of coal led to a 148% reduction in GWP.

A derivative of solid biofuel is biochar, which is produced by biomass pyrolysis. Bio-char made from agricultural waste can substitute for wood charcoal. As wood stock becomes scarce this alternative is gaining ground. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, biomass briquettes are being marketed as an alternative to charcoal in order to protect Virunga National Park from deforestation associated with charcoal production.[26]

Second generation biofuels

Supporters of biofuels claim that a more viable solution is to increase political and industrial support for, and rapidity of, second-generation biofuel implementation from non-food crops. These include waste biomass, the stalks of wheat, corn, wood, and special-energy-or-biomass crops (e.g. Miscanthus). Second generation (2G) biofuels use biomass to liquid technology,[27] including cellulosic biofuels.[28] Many second generation biofuels are under development such as biohydrogen, biomethanol, DMF, Bio-DME, Fischer-Tropsch diesel, biohydrogen diesel, mixed alcohols and wood diesel.

Cellulosic ethanol production uses non-food crops or inedible waste products and does not divert food away from the animal or human food chain. Lignocellulose is the "woody" structural material of plants. This feedstock is abundant and diverse, and in some cases (like citrus peels or sawdust) it is in itself a significant disposal problem.

Producing ethanol from cellulose is a difficult technical problem to solve. In nature, ruminant livestock (like cattle) eat grass and then use slow enzymatic digestive processes to break it into glucose (sugar). In cellulosic ethanol laboratories, various experimental processes are being developed to do the same thing, and then the sugars released can be fermented to make ethanol fuel. In 2009 scientists reported developing, using "synthetic biology", "15 new highly stable fungal enzyme catalysts that efficiently break down cellulose into sugars at high temperatures", adding to the 10 previously known.[29] The use of high temperatures, has been identified as an important factor in improving the overall economic feasibility of the biofuel industry and the identification of enzymes that are stable and can operate efficiently at extreme temperatures is an area of active research.[30] In addition, research conducted at TU Delft by Jack Pronk has shown that elephant yeast, when slightly modified can also create ethanol from non-edible ground sources (e.g. straw).[31][32]

The recent discovery of the fungus Gliocladium roseum points toward the production of so-called myco-diesel from cellulose. This organism was recently discovered in the rainforests of northern Patagonia and has the unique capability of converting cellulose into medium length hydrocarbons typically found in diesel fuel.[33] Scientists also work on experimental recombinant DNA genetic engineering organisms that could increase biofuel potential.

Scientists working in New Zealand have developed a technology to use industrial waste gases from steel mills as a feedstock for a microbial fermentation process to produce ethanol.[34][35]

Second, third, and fourth generation biofuels are also called advanced biofuels.

Third generation biofuels

Algae fuel, also called oilgae or third generation biofuel, is a biofuel from algae. Algae are low-input, high-yield feedstocks to produce biofuels. Based on laboratory experiments, it is claimed that algae can produce up to 30 times more energy per acre than land crops such as soybeans,[36] but these yields have yet to be produced commercially. With the higher prices of fossil fuels (petroleum), there is much interest in algaculture (farming algae). One advantage of many biofuels over most other fuel types is that they are biodegradable, and so relatively harmless to the environment if spilled.[37][38][39] Algae fuel still has its difficulties though, for instance to produce algae fuels it must be mixed uniformly, which, if done by agitation, could affect biomass growth.[40]

The United States Department of Energy estimates that if algae fuel replaced all the petroleum fuel in the United States, it would require only 15,000 square miles (38,849 square kilometers), which is roughly the size of Maryland,[36] or less than one seventh the amount of land devoted to corn in 2000.[41]

Algae, such as Botryococcus braunii and Chlorella vulgaris are relatively easy to grow,[42] but the algal oil is hard to extract. There are several approaches, some of which work better than others.[43] Macroalgae (seaweed) also have a great potential for bioethanol and biogas production.[44]

Ethanol from living algae

Most biofuel production comes from harvesting organic matter and then converting it to fuel but an alternative approach relies on the fact that some algae naturally produce ethanol and this can be collected without killing the algae. The ethanol evaporates and then can be condensed and collected. The company Algenol is trying to commercialize this process.

Fourth generation biofuels

A number of companies are pursuing advanced "bio-chemical" and "thermo-chemical" processes that produce "drop in" fuels like "green gasoline," "green diesel," and "green aviation fuel." While there is no one established definition of "fourth-generation biofuels," some have referred to it as the biofuels created from processes other than first generation ethanol and biodiesel, second generation cellulosic ethanol, and third generation algae biofuel. Some fourth generation technology pathways include: pyrolysis, gasification, upgrading, solar-to-fuel, and genetic manipulation of organisms to secrete hydrocarbons.[45]

Hydrocarbon plants or petroleum plants are plants which produce terpenoids as secondary metabolites that can be converted to gasoline-like fuels. Latex producing members of the Euphorbiaceae such as Euphorbia lathyris and E. tirucalli and members of Apocynaceae have been studied for their potential energy uses.[47][48]

Green fuels

However, if biocatalytic cracking and traditional fractional distillation used to process properly prepared algal biomass i.e. biocrude,[49] then as a result we receive the following distillates: jet fuel, gasoline, diesel, etc.. Hence, we may call them third generation or green fuels.

Biofuels by region

Recognizing the importance of implementing bioenergy, there are international organizations such as IEA Bioenergy,[50] established in 1978 by the OECD International Energy Agency (IEA), with the aim of improving cooperation and information exchange between countries that have national programs in bioenergy research, development and deployment. The U.N. International Biofuels Forum is formed by Brazil, China, India, South Africa, the United States and the European Commission.[51] The world leaders in biofuel development and use are Brazil, United States, France, Sweden and Germany.

Issues with biofuel production and use

There are various current issues with biofuel production and use, which are presently being discussed in the popular media and scientific journals. These include: the effect of moderating oil prices, the "food vs fuel" debate,[52] carbon emissions levels, sustainable biofuel production, deforestation and soil erosion, impact on water resources, human rights issues, poverty reduction potential, biofuel prices, energy balance and efficiency, and centralised versus decentralised production models.

[edit] First generation biofuel controversies

There is controversy and political speculation surrounding first-generation biofuels due to the agricultural, economic, and social implications associated with the potential expansion of biofuel production.

  • Research has been done in China that indicates that the demand for bio-fuel feedstock such as maize, sugarcane, and cassava will significantly increase due to the expansion of biofuel production; the increased demand for feedstock will lead prices for such grain to significantly increase.[53]
  • A similar study done examining a potential increase in ethanol production capacity in the United States also predicts an upward trend in agricultural prices as a direct effect of expanding domestic biofuel production.[54]
  • Expanding biofuel production is also projected to have an effect on livestock prices. A study done in China predicted that increased maize prices, due to biofuel expansion, will indirectly cause the prices of livestock production to increase due to the heavy reliance on maize for animal feed.[55] The increase in input prices would also lead to a decrease in livestock production and ultimately decrease in the income of livestock producers, affecting families globally.

Increased agricultural prices will also provide incentives for farmers to stray away from producing other less profitable grains, causing a shift in the crop production structure, leading to a decrease in agricultural diversity subsequently diverting food away from the human food chain. In order for the United States to meet the biofuel target introduced in the Energy Independence and Security Act:

  • 40% of the land that is currently devoted to corn production would have to be converted to biofuel feedstock production.[56]
  • Shifts in crop production and the changes in world price of agricultural commodities due to the expansion of the biofuel market are expected to have global impacts on consumers.

Individuals who are food insecure will be more heavily impacted by the increase in world prices; food price volatility has the largest impact on the extremely poor, those who spend 55-75% of their income on food.[57]

See also


  1. ^ Demirbas, A. (2009). "Political, economic and environmental impacts of biofuels: A review". Applied Energy 86: S108–S117. doi:10.1016/j.apenergy.2009.04.036.  edit
  2. ^ "Towards Sustainable Production and Use of Resources: Assessing Biofuels". United Nations Environment Programme. 2009-10-16. Retrieved 2009-10-24. 
  3. ^ "BioEnergyBroch_FINAL05.indd" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  4. ^ Bio ethanol fires information bio ethanol fireplace. (2009)
  5. ^ Andrew Bounds (2007-09-10). "OECD warns against biofuels subsidies". Financial Times. Retrieved 2008-03-07. 
  6. ^ see "Breaking the Biological Barriers to Cellulosic Ethanol"
  7. ^ Brinkman, N. et al., "Well-to-Wheels Analysis of Advanced/Vehicle Systems", 2005.
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Further reading

External links