Canadian scientists unravel camelina biofuel genome

Aug. 26, 2013 at 6:00 AM
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ITHACA, N.Y., Aug. 26 (UPI) -- Saskatchewan scientists say they have sequenced the camelina sativa genome, an important step in the development of sustainable biofuels.

The genome sequencing discovery was announced by scientists from Saskatchewan firm Genome Prairie, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications reported Friday.

"The completion of the Camelina genome sequence marks an important milestone that will enable local businesses to be more innovative in developing Camelina-based value-added industrial bioproducts," Genome Prairie Chief Executive Officer Reno Pontarollo said.

Jet A-1 commercial airliner biofuel derived from camelina has a reduced carbon emission rate of between 80 percent and 85 percent, researchers said.

Renewable Jet A-1 biofuel is a so-called drop in fuel -- blended 50-50 with conventional Jet A-1 kerosene derived from hydrocarbons, so it requires no special engine modifications.

Large-scale development of renewable biofuels has so far failed to produce renewable Jet A-1 in commercial quantities at a cost comparable to fossil fuel kerosene hydrocarbon Jet A-1.

This bottleneck may be about to change, as AltAir, a major player in the burgeoning biofuels market, has unveiled ambitious plans to provide United Airlines with at 15 million gallons of renewable jet fuel over the next three years from a retooled refinery based in Los Angeles. The development is being closely watched, as the AltAir project will be the first U.S. refinery capable of producing both diesel and drop-in replacements for petroleum-based jet fuels.

United Airlines has collaborated with AltAir Fuels for the past five years and has agreed not only to the initial purchase, but an option to purchase more.

A second potential market for camelina biofuel is the U.S. military. Camelina has been extensively tested by the U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy and been proven to perform well.

The global investment community has begun to express interest in biofuel production.

In February 2011 BioJet International Ltd. -- a leading international supply chain integrator in renewable bio jet fuel and related products for the aviation and transportation sectors -- announced it had received $1.2 billion in funding from the Cayman Islands-based Equity Partners Fund SP.

The funding gave BioJet a significant source of capital for its supply chain capital projects program, including feedstock and refining projects, as well as investment and strategic acquisitions.

"This funding agreement with Equity Partners will form the cornerstone of BioJet capital projects and accretive EBIDTA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) positive acquisitions over the next five years," Chairman Mitch Hawkins said. "It enables a clear path to the expansion of our camelina, Jatropha, and Algae feedstock projects as well as our Avia renewable jet refining projects in Latin America, Asia, and Europe. We will also be seeking acquisitions of listed companies which can add value geographically and strategically."

BioJet is the first Alternative Fuels Strategic Partner of the International Air Transport Association.

The Canadian discovery will allow future camelina strains to be custom developed with such characteristics as increased yield, drought resistance and pest resistance to be manipulated by gene manipulation.

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