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Jet Fuel from Camelina

North Carolina State University (NC State)

Jet Fuel From Camelina Sativa: A Systems Approach

Graphic of NC State's technology
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$8,556,336
Location: 
Raleigh, NC
Project Term: 
01/01/2012 to 03/31/2017
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Biofuels offer renewable alternatives to petroleum-based fuels that reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to nearly zero. However, traditional biofuels production is limited not only by the small amount of solar energy that plants convert through photosynthesis into biological materials, but also by inefficient processes for converting these biological materials into fuels. Farm-ready, non-food crops are needed that produce fuels or fuel-like precursors at significantly lower costs with significantly higher productivity. To make biofuels cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels, biofuels production costs must be cut in half.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

NC State will genetically modify the oil-crop plant Camelina sativa to produce high quantities of both modified oils and terpenes. These components are optimized for thermocatalytic conversion into energy-dense drop-in transportation fuels. The genetically engineered Camelina will capture more carbon than current varieties and have higher oil yields. The Camelina will be more tolerant to drought and heat, which makes it suitable for farming in warmer and drier climate zones in the US. The increased productivity of NC State's enhanced Camelina and the development of energy-effective harvesting, extraction, and conversion technology could provide an alternative non-petrochemical source of fuel.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, NC State's project will enable large-scale and cost-competitive production of renewable jet fuel from Camelina. Use of this fuel could reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in aviation by up to 80%.

Security: 

The transportation sector accounts for nearly all of our petroleum imports. Providing an advanced biofuels alternative to petroleum will allow the U.S. to reduce these imports, improving our energy independence.

Environment: 

More than 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from the transportation sector. Because plants naturally absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, the level of greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels is less than half that of petroleum fuels.

Economy: 

The U.S. imports nearly $1 billion in petroleum each day, accounting for the single largest factor in our trade balance with the rest of the world. Biofuels can be produced domestically, allowing us to keep more dollars at home.

Innovation Update: 
(As of March 2017) 
With ARPA-E’s support, NC State produced economic models demonstrating that increasing oil yield in Camelina seeds by 70%—the level observed in the greenhouse with experimental plants—could more than triple farmers’ profits. Their partner Metabolix is testing promising Camelina lines from their project and a similar PETRO project lead by the University of Massachusetts (UMass) in field trials as a first step to incorporating the lines or traits into their commercial pipeline. A $2.5M award to Metabolix and NC State from the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technology Office will be used to finance activities to further develop Camelina lines with increased seed yield and oil content using a genome editing approach. In addition, Metabolix is working to transfer select licensed traits into C3 row crops and C4 crops, the results of which will guide further commercialization efforts and licensing/negotiations with major agricultural companies. 
 
NC State targeted the cell wall invertase inhibitors (CWIIs), which regulate the transport of sugar from the photosynthetically active tissues (like leaves) to the non-green roots, flowers, and seeds. They engineered the gene to increase sugar available for biomass production and seed yield, which led to Camelina with higher vegetative biomass (greater than 20%), higher rates of photosynthesis and increased seed yield (40-80%). UMass introduced carbon-concentrating mechanisms into the plant’s cells to increase the intracellular levels of CO2 and increase photosynthesis. One metabolite transporter reliably increased biomass and seed yield in Camelina. As the UMass transporter functioned through a distinct mechanism from NC State’s traits, ARPA-E encouraged the two teams to collaborate. NC State and UMass stacked the transporter and the cell CWIIs together in Camelina and observed in the laboratory an additional 15% increase in vegetative biomass production and increased seed yield. 
 
For a detailed assessment of the NCSU project and impact, please click here.


Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Joe Cornelius
Project Contact: 
Dr. Heike Sederoff
Partners
Metabolix Oilseeds
Metabolix, Inc.
Release Date: 
9/29/2011