Community college plows new ground for biofuel crop research
A 24-acre double-crop plot of camelina and soybeans is growing this summer on Anoka-Ramsey Community College’s Cambridge Campus as part of an expanding emphasis at the college on biofuel research and training. Anoka-Ramsey Community College, with campuses in Cambridge and Coon Rapids, is a member of the Minnesota Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system in Minnesota.
Camelina, a distant relative to canola, offers a promising new possibility for producing biofuels from nonfood sources, said Melanie Waite-Altringer, a biology faculty member who’s leading the project. The college’s biology and chemistry faculty joined with Ever Cat Fuels LLC., an Isanti biofuel processor, U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers, and local farmers to study various aspects of energy crops.
“This is a true energy crop that isn’t used for food,” Waite-Altringer said. “In this project, we are ‘intercropping’ camelina with soybeans to see if the two crops can be grown together with high yields of each.” Planted in early May, the camelina should be ready for harvest in late July or early August. A harvest party is planned for July 31 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The soybeans, planted in early June, are expected to be harvested in September or October.
“We’re pleased that Anoka-Ramsey can play a key role in this project, which may well spur new economic development in the region,” said Deidra Peaslee, vice president of Anoka-Ramsey Community College, “Besides enriching student learning, we are expanding opportunities for area farmers, businesses, and the workers needed in this emerging industry.”
“With the camelina not being widely known as a good source for biodiesel production, we are trying to showcase that it can be a sustainable resource of highly needed renewable energy,” Waite-Altringer said. “Our students are conducting research adjacent to the demonstration plot to see what ratio of camelina to soybeans will generate the optimal profit for farmers. We also are working with U.S.D.A. researchers from Morris, who are studying beneficial pollinating insects associated with energy crops. Ever Cat Fuels offers the most efficient way to process camelina into biodiesel fuel.” One acre of camelina may produce up to 70 gallons of biodiesel fuel.
Dillon Danforth, a 19-year-old science student who just completed this freshman year at the college, said he jumped at the chance to participate in the research project. “I plan on going into some kind of science,” he said. “With this project, I have a better understanding of how the whole process works and all the work that goes into it. Most undergraduates don’t get to do actual research. So, I feel I’m very lucky to have gotten this experience.”