U of M research helps turn crops into jet fuel and diesel

U of M research helps turn crops into jet fuel and diesel

U of M research helps turn crops into jet fuel and diesel

A new grant will help University of Minnesota researchers work to fuel the future.

Wayzata-based Cargill is giving the university $2.5 million to develop new crops that will provide renewable alternatives to biofuel and also help Minnesota farmers. 

Behind the doors of the Borlaug Hall Science Building, you’ll find over 10 years of work. Researchers have been perfecting a process to help two oilseed crops thrive in Minnesota weather and, in turn, be used as bioenergy. 

Mitch Hunter, associate director of the Forever Green Initiative, says the oils in the tiny seeds of Camelina and Pennycress crops are extracted to make fuel. 

“It starts with something as simple as taking pollen from one flower and putting it on another flower,” explained Hunter. “There’s a huge amount of interest from the aviation industry.”

While Camelina has been around for thousands of years, Pennycress started as a ditch weed and was domesticated over 10 years to become a new crop. 

“So probably these two crops alone can’t even meet, in our wildest dreams, all the demand for sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel. But they can make a big dent,” said Hunter.

The benefits go well beyond airplanes. Hunter says when Minnesota farmers plant the crops in the winter, it protects their soil from erosion. 

“When soils bare, the rain falls on it, it can erode away. There are nutrients in the soil like nitrate that can leach into our water where they become a pollutant,” he said. 

Experts say crops have the potential to be grown on millions of acres of cropland in Minnesota, providing another revenue stream for farms. 

Hunter estimates over 2,000 acres of Camelina crop are grown in the Upper Midwest, which is 20 times more than just a couple of years ago.