Montana State explores new biodiesel feedstock

By | July 01, 2005
The Institute for Biobased Products, part of Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont., is studying a new biodiesel feedstock that is cheaper to harvest and therefore will cut down on a biodiesel producer's input costs, according to researcher and former institute director Duane Johnson.

Johnson told Biodiesel Magazine about a crop called camelina, similar to the mustard plant and commonly grown in northern Europe. The institute began researching camelina's potential as a biodiesel feedstock while trying to figure out how to lower the cost of producing the renewable fuel. In its third year of research, Johnson has some impressive numbers to present. He estimated the cost to make biodiesel from common feedstocks such as canola, mustard, sunflower and safflower is currently $2.35 to $2.65 per gallon, meaning it would retail at approximately $3 per gallon. Using camelina, Johnson said biodiesel would cost $1 to $1.25 per gallon.

"About 75 percent of [biodiesel production] cost was in farm-grown raw materials," Johnson said. "We started looking at a crop that was cheaper to grow. [Camelina] is looking very good in terms of being a low-cost replacement."

Breaking it down further, Johnson said it costs 8 cents per pound to grow canola, while camelina costs 1 to 2 cents per pound. The lower cost is attributed to lower fertility requirements, earlier planting, less watering, and no disease or insect problems. "It costs me $5 an acre to plant [camelina] and another $15 to $20 to combine it," Johnson said. However, Johnson did admit that camelina-based biodiesel isn't as high-quality as canola-based biodiesel.

The institute, which opened in 2004, received grants for this project from the USDA, among other state and university groups. The project is scheduled for completion in 2008, but Johnson is hoping if the group shows enough progress that the project will continue.
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