Burning Our Own Fuels

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Ancient plant may hold valuable key

By Kirsten Peters

The Gulf oil spill has shown us just one of the downsides of petroleum.
That makes the mind of even a geologist like me turn to several questions about the future.
Could we Americans grow more of our own fuel – enough to run a number of our cars, trucks and airplanes?
And, quite importantly, could we do so without displacing food crops like corn?
Pretty much everybody from all sorts of political persuasions is interested in those issues.
And the good news is that researchers – and farmers with a vision, too – are hard at work laboring on new uses of an ancient crop plant called Camelina.
Also known as “false flax,” it’s a wispy plant in the same group as mustard and Canola.
There are two impressive things about Camelina. Its seeds contain a lot of oil that’s liberated by crushing – and the more oil the better from the fuel point of view.
Better still, Camelina can be grown on pretty lousy soil – either areas where no crops will grow well or at times that soil may otherwise be left fallow by farmers in dryland regions of our country.
Score two big ones for Camelina.

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