Camelina: It could fuel military aircraft
KEVIN MCCULLEN; The Associated Press |
TRI-CITIES — An oilseed that can grow in arid spots could one day supply fuel for commercial and military aircraft, power Navy ships and give livestock an heart-healthy nutrient.
The oilseed is a member of the mustard family.
Airline and aircraft manufacturers that are part of the Airline Transportation Action Group have committed by 2015 to making biofuels 1 percent — about 500 million to 600 million gallons — of their annual fuel consumption, a Boeing executive said in February at a clean energy conference in Kennewick. The Air Force and Navy also have contracts with a biofuels company to supply it with camelina-based fuel for aircraft and ships.
Last month, an Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt flew on a 50-50 blend of camelina-based fuel and regular jet fuel, and similar tests are planned with a Navy F-18 and other aircraft.
Moreover, studies conducted by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Washington State University have shown camelina can be grown in arid, nonirrigated and marginal soils found in some parts of Eastern Washington.
Researchers have found that the oilseed tolerates cold, needs a minimal amount of water, grows to maturity rapidly, doesn’t require much fertilizer and works well as a rotational crop with wheat.
And it’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to heart health. Meal from crushed camelina seed has been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for use as feed for beef cattle and broiler chickens.
The North American Camelina Trade Association, which includes camelina seed companies, processors and researchers, said last year it was working to obtain FDA certification for camelina meal use in feed for laying hens, swine and dairy cows.
“We’re in the pioneering stages of this technology,” said Hal Collins, a research soil microbiologist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service unit in Prosser who’s been part of a team studying camelina and other renewable fuel feedstocks.
Camelina also can reduce carbon emissions in aviation fuel. An analysis by researchers from Michigan Tech University and others has shown camelina reduces carbon emissions by about 80 percent compared with petroleum fuel, according to Seattle-based AltAir Fuels.