This research funded by SARE. Learn More.
Is it economical to produce camelina for biodiesel? How do the economics work when its product is integrated as biofuel and livestock feed?
The recent focus on camelina production in the western United States has been generated by an interest in establishing this oilseed as a rotational crop in a dryland system. Part of the interest lies in the ability to make biodiesel from the oil and use the meal as livestock feed.
We estimated the costs for a camelina–biodiesel system based on the process outlined in Biodiesel Basics and Beyond by Kemp (2006). Kemp uses a series of electric water heaters to turn vegetable oil into fuel. Note that this process has not been evaluated for safety by the University of Wyoming and as such, this research does not constitute an endorsement of this process. We also developed a spreadsheet-based “calculator” that has been refined for a detailed comparison between different parts of the process.
The results show that this 385-acre system produces an estimated 7,344 gallons of biodiesel. Total meal production is estimated to be 71.9 tons based on 347 harvested acres and 600 pounds-per-acre yield. The cost of biodiesel production was estimated to be $3.84 per gallon for ownership and operating costs.
The amount of meal produced shows that producers should primarily consider meal disposition rather than oil production in this enterprise, and be sure to have sufficient livestock resources available to consume the meal. An interesting observation is that the key driver in the system is the price of the feedstock. Lower costs of the camelina feedstocks, as compared to other oilseed crops, increase the attractiveness of camelina for biodiesel production. However, lower prices for camelina versus wheat prices make growing this crop less attractive to the producer. From a purely financial perspective, on-farm biodiesel production from dryland camelina is not economically feasible.
This research illustrates the premium that producers would need to achieve their goals of fuel security, protection from volatile fuel prices, and concern over the impact of petroleum diesel on the environment. However, we understand that economics is only one variable (albeit quite important) in the decision-making process. Farmers do have a choice. Biodiesel may have a place in a farmer’s production system, but it will not come without a price.
Contact Thomas Foulke, Senior Research Scientist, University of Wyoming, Department of Agricultural & Applied Economics. Foulke@uwyo.edu