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Carinata Gains Ground

Fuel production from this oilseed holds promise.

The oilseed crop carinata is gaining ground in the Northern Plains. A member of the mustard family with growing traits similar to canola, carinata offers growers a crop to diversify rotations, especially in semiarid regions. It holds promise, too, as a biofuel crop, particularly as a feedstock for jet fuel.

“Carinata is easier to refine into jet fuel and biodiesel than are other plant products,” says Eric Eriksmoen, research agronomist at North Dakota State University’s North Central Research Extension Center. “Supporting the development of carinata oil into jet fuel is the U.S. Navy’s interest in developing plant-based sources of fuel.”

Its lower gel temperature relative to petroleum-based diesel fuels makes carinata a good fit for biodiesel used in northern regions.

Carinata’s primary developer, the Canadian company Agrisoma Biosciences, has been contracting with farmers in western North Dakota and eastern Montana to produce the crop that originated in Ethiopia.

Production is likely to take hold, too, in South Dakota, where researchers at South Dakota State University (SDSU) are working on an oilseed initiative that is developing ways to expand carinata production and create processing capacity. Funding is coming from the South Dakota legislature, the South Dakota Oilseed Commission, the North Central Sun Grant Initiative, and from Agrisoma.

“Our research is designed to help fill in the unresolved areas of the value chain to enable scale-up and commercialization of a carinata production and processing pipeline,” says SDSU scientist William Gibbons.

Analyzing Carinata

Researchers are evaluating varieties, production methods, use of carinata meal as livestock feed, and an economic and life-cycle analysis of its value chain.

“As carinata acreage increases, we can initially use custom crushers to extract the oil from the seed and convert it into biodiesel in existing facilities,” says Gibbons. “Meal could fit into the livestock feed market.

“At some point, sufficient carinata acreage will be available to warrant construction of a dedicated carinata crushing facility,” he says. “This could subsequently be expanded to include the equipment to process carinata oil into jet fuel. The location of such a facility would depend on transportation logistics for delivery of the seed, use of the jet fuel, and use of the high-protein meal.”

Like canola, carinata is a cool-season broadleaf, but it is better able to handle heat. “In arid regions, where canola yields are marginal, carinata might be a crop that farmers can produce more successfully than canola,” says Eriksmoen.

Carinata’s growth traits are akin to those of canola. Due to its heat tolerance, though, carinata can be seeded a little later in the spring than canola. It requires a slightly longer growing season and requires slightly less nitrogen than canola.

“At harvesting, it doesn’t shatter as easily as canola, so it lends itself to direct combining,” says Eriksmoen.

Carinata yields in Eriksmoen’s trials have been as high as 3,000 pounds per acre, but a typical yield is 1,500 to 2,000 pounds.

Seed costs and contract prices are competitive with other crops. “Carinata can be grown in a broad range of ecoregions,” says Gibbons. “However, its ability to grow under semiarid conditions means that its competitive advantage will be strongest in semiarid regions of North America. Due to its cold tolerance, carinata is also being evaluated as a winter crop in the southeastern U.S.”

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