Camelina-a sustainable biofuel miracle plant

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Camelina is an oilseed and energy crop, which has gathered a lot of attention in the last few years. Its importance cannot be ignored due to its uses and benefits. Worldwide, everyone is looking for bio-fuel and camelina is one of the best sources of bio-fuels. Recently, jet fuel market has evolved as a potential business opportunity for camelina oil. It has excellent nutritional and medicinal values due to the presence of elite fatty acid profiling. It has potential for many other bio-based products include fish feed, bio-lubricants and healthy oil.

This crop got attention by Pakistani researchers and also by the scientist from other countries of the world because of two main reasons. First one is the “source of bio-fuel” and second one is the “Omega-3 fatty acids. Camelina has a unique profile of oil contents. The concentration of Omega-3 fatty acids is very high, up to 45 per cent, in this ignored plant. It is also a good source of Omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids have medicinal values like lowering high blood pressure, cholesterol and heart diseases. Studies conducted by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) on the Prairies showed that oil and protein content of camelina accessions ranged from 38 per cent to 43 per cent and 27 per cent to 32 per cent, respectively.

Dr. Frank Sacks, Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health stated that omega-3 fatty acids (also known as n-3 fatty acids) are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential nutrients for human health. We need omega-3 fatty acids for several normal body functions, such as controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain, and since our bodies cannot synthesize omega-3 fats, we must acquire them through food. Omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with many health benefits, including protection against heart disease and possibly stroke. New studies are identifying potential benefits for a wide range of conditions including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Most of the fatty acids (over 50%) are polyunsaturated in cold-pressed camelina oil. The oil is very stable and resistant to oxidation and rancidity due to the presence of tocopherols, which is natural antioxidant, making it precious oil. Vitamin-E is a part of the the oil and its contents are approximately 110 mg/100 g. The oil is well suited for use as cooking oil. Flavor and aroma of the camelina oil are just like almond oil.

Because of its uses, health benefits and its stability, camelina oil has been added to the growing list of functional foods. It can be used as animal feed and has approved as a cow feed supplement in the US. If it has been approved in US for animal feed then why not in Pakistan? It can also be used in poultry feed and laying hen feed as an important feed ingredient. Significant crude protein (CP) contents (The residues after the extraction of oil) are present in camelina meal. Camelina meal feeding increases the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in breast and thighs of birds (i.e. Chicken).

In addition to the nutritional value it has potential for application in the biodiesel industry and as a feedstock for poultry, cattle, hog and fish. Camelina seed oil has low viscosity, which makes it a desirable constituent in oil blends.

Passengers carrying flight of KLM, the Royal Dutch Airline, was the first flight of RDA who used biofuel for its flight and the plane completed the mission successfully. Another example of biofuel is the flight of Boeing 747, limited number of passengers were there in that flight and it was flew with biofuel and kerosene oil on 23rd November, 2009.

Agronomy: Cultivation of camelina is not difficult. It is a short-season crop and takes almost 85-100 days. Best suited area for its cultivation is the temperate climate zone with light or medium soils. It can be grown in two seasons: Spring season (from March to May) in which it can be seeded and the second one is during fall season (mid October-end November) for mild climates. Recommended seed rate is @ 4-12 kg/ha, with row to row distance of 12-20 cm. At the time of sowing, one thing should be kept in mind that seed should not be placed below 1 cm depth. Camelina has the ability to survive under mild frosts in the spring. Minimum seedbed preparation is required for camelina cultivation.

The purpose of this introduction was to screen this huge collection for local environment and acclimatize them. No doubt it has great nutritional value but research institutes should also work on this ignored crop in the prospect of energy benefits as a biofuel/biodiesel. Particularly, well adopted camelina lines could be selected/ developed for production in Cholistan and Thar, to help fight hunger in these areas. This might provide solution to the worst energy crises; Pakistan has been facing since the last decade.

The writer ares associated with the Plant Genetic Resources Laboratory, Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan. They can be reached at <asifpbg@uaf.edu.pk>


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