Kansas State University biochemist is improving biofuels with a promising crop: Camelina sativa. The research may help boost rural economies and provide farmers with a value-added product.
Developing low-viscosity oil is crucial to improving biofuels, Durrett said. Regular vegetable oil is too viscous for a diesel engine, so the engine either has to be modified or the vegetable oil has to be converted to biodiesel. Camelina could provide a drop-in fuel that could address this issue.
"By reducing the viscosity, we want to make a biofuel that can be used directly by a diesel engine without requiring any kind of chemical modification," Durrett said. "We would be able to extract the oil directly and use it in a diesel engine right away."
Although low-viscosity oils are a valuable fuel source, they also are valuable for a variety of other industrial uses, such as plasticizers, biodegradable lubricants and food emulsifiers, Durrett said.
The research also could create a value-added product for farmers. Modified oils have the potential to become more valuable than regular vegetable oil, Durrett said.
"It is important to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, but the hope is that we also could help improve the rural economy by giving farmers a value-added product that they can produce directly," Durrett said. "Rather than having a chemical company or a biofuel company take raw vegetable oil and modify it, the plant actually performs the chemistry and the farmers harvest that value-added product themselves."