I hadn't heard of it either, don't worry. But researchers at the University of North Dakota's Energy & Environmental Research Center are hoping to turn this plant into a liquid biofuel that will do in ethanol and biodiesel. To help in that effort, EERC has announced that they will be collaborating with San Antonio, Texas-based firm Tesoro on a $1 million project to turn crambe, as well as other oilseed crops, into fuel:
Crambe Promises to Not Compete With Food Crops
According to EERC the advantages of crambe are as follows:
Crambe is a drought-tolerant oilseed crop with demonstrated viability throughout western North Dakota and the surrounding region. Unlike soybeans, canola, and other oil seeds, crambe produces an industrial (non-food-grade) oil, and costs less to plant, fertilize, and grow.
Not Ethanol or Biodiesel...
The interesting thing about the type of fuels being produced by EERC is that they are neither ethanol or biodiesel, but rather renewable fuels that are "essentially indistinguishable from their petroleum-derived counterparts." The prime advantage of this is that they can be distributed through the same existing infrastructure as fossil fuels.
What is Crambe Anyway?
From the Alternative Field Crops Manual, University of Wisconsin:
Crambe (Crambe abyssinica Hochst.) is believed to be a native of the Mediterranean area. The oilseed crop contains an inedible oil used for industrial products. It has been grown in tropical and subtropical Africa, the Near East, Central and West Asia, Europe, United States, and South America. It was first used as a crop in 1933 at the Boronez Botanical Station, U.S.S.R., and has been a part of a Swedish breeding program since 1949.
Crambe was introduced to the U.S.A. by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in the 1940s. Evaluations for strains of the crop began in Texas in 1958. Crambe has since been successfully grown in several areas of the United States.
According to the same source, crambe can be grown as a spring crop in the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Southwest of the US. It can tolerate temperatures as low as 24°F and requires 90-100 days from planting to reach maturity. Though relatively drought resistant it requires moist areas for best yield. When fully grown crambe (which is related to rapeseed and mustard) grows to a height of 24-40", with numerous branches.
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