Editor's Note

Canola at the Forefront, Camelina on the Horizon
By Tom Bryan | January 24, 2007
This issue of Biodiesel Magazine is focused largely on production feedstocks that the global biodiesel industry may increasingly rely on in the years ahead. Of course, if you're talking about U.S. feedstocks, it's hard to ignore what's developing on the canola front in the Northern Plains. In our page 38 feature, "Budding Opportunities in Canola," Staff Writer Ron Kotrba points out that current biodiesel producers, as well as future producers, have hammered stakes in the ground in multiple locations across north-central North Dakota. They all want access and control of the region's canola crop, and there's frankly not enough to go around without relying on our friends north of the border.

Kotrba explains that canola has become all the rage, so to speak, in the biodiesel industry for the same reasons it's in high demand in the food industry. Canola has zero trans-fat and lower saturated fats. "The same benefits that canola offers to the food industry are what make it a success-in-the-waiting in the biodiesel industries in the United States and Canada," Kotrba writes.

There's a catch, of course. Besides north-central North Dakota and a particular stretch in the Canadian prairie, canola doesn't grow well in too many places in North America. In fact, just 550,000 metric tons of the crop were grown in the United States last year, and it looks like that wouldn't even be enough to satisfy the needs of the biggest producer in the country planning to use it: Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM).

ADM has a large canola crush facility in Velva, N.D., and the company is building an 85 MMgy biodiesel plant at the same site. Kotrba points out that ADM's own plant will require 130 percent of all U.S. canola production, leaving the business plans of at least three other potential canola-dependent biodiesel plants in the state ostensibly insecure.

The long and short of it is this: If all the biodiesel plants that are proposed and under construction in North Dakota are truly going to use canola, they'll need to put all the canola the state currently grows straight into biodiesel production, import additional canola oil from Canada, grow more U.S. acreage and increase per-acre yields. Technically, all of those things are possible. However, it will be interesting to see how everything plays out.

Kotrba leaves us thinking about an important question: He asks whether or not importing canola oil from Canada to produce biodiesel domestically is incongruous with the idea of decreasing our reliance on foreign sources of energy or energy feedstocks from other countries. Kotrba makes it clear that neither he nor his sources are insinuating that importing a plant-based feedstock for clean, renewable fuel production is equivalent to importing crude oil from the Middle East. He does, however, point out that gasoline refined (i.e., produced) in Texas from Saudi Arabian crude oil isn't exactly a domestic fuel. So should we think any differently of biodiesel made from Canadian canola? It's not a hot-button issue right now, but it's a compelling question nevertheless.

On the other hand, if camelina lives up to the high expectations some folks have for it, perhaps canola's allure will fade with time. As Biodiesel Magazine Staff Writer Nicholas Zeman points out in our page 98 feature on this intriguing crop, camelina appears to grow well in northern climates-and better yet, on marginal lands. In "Crazy for Camelina," Zeman points out that this low-input, high-yielding oilseed contains a high amount of antioxidants that may give the plant oil-and perhaps biodiesel derived from that oil-a longer shelf life.

Experts say camelina could be an ideal crop to rotate with spring wheat, which can only be grown on the same ground every other year. That, too, could give this would-be U.S. biodiesel feedstock even greater appeal. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a B100 user himself, thinks camelina is a miracle crop and a potential boon to his state's farm economy. He's wasting no time trying to jump-start efforts to help Montana farmers get involved in small-scale production. The down-to-earth governor tells Biodiesel Magazine, "We don't need ExxonMobil-we can do it ourselves."

Tom Bryan
Editorial Director
[email protected]
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