Producing new U.S. energy crops by the barrel

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have produced oils of camelina, canola, Cuphea, lesquerella, milkweed and pennycress by the barrelful in their commercial-scale pilot plant. These alternative crops may be able to provide alternative domestic sources of industrial products ranging from soap to biofuels for cars, trucks and—in the case of Cuphea—even jet fuel.

Plant physiologist Russ Gesch and colleagues…have studied Cuphea since 1999. They work closely with companies such as Procter & Gamble of Cincinnati, Ohio. Procter & Gamble uses the type of fatty acids found in Cuphea to make laundry detergent and other products.

These crops all offer ways to sustainably grow fuel and industrial products without depleting either the U.S. food supply or soils. The Morris scientists also are beginning a long-term study of a corn-soybean crop rotation plan that includes grasses for making cellulosic ethanol: switchgrass, big bluestem, indiangrass, and a sorghum-Sudangrass hybrid. Their goal is to develop cropping systems for optimal biomass production while maintaining or enhancing soil productivity.

Cuphea is one of the few sources of oils in the United States that contain the type of fatty acids needed to make soaps, cosmetics, motor oils and industrial lubricants. These oils currently are produced commercially only in the tropics, from palm kernel and coconut oils.

Interesting research. And discovering the Agricultural Research Service website from the USDA has been rewarding. I’ll be making this a regular stop.

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