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EERC and Tesoro join up to refine crambe oilseeds into fuels

UND's Energy & Environmental Research Center and the Tesoro petroleum refinery in Mandan, N.D., soon may be refining a relatively unknown oilseed -- crambe -- directly into diesel and jet fuel without any need for the specialized processes as...

UND's Energy & Environmental Research Center and the Tesoro petroleum refinery in Mandan, N.D., soon may be refining a relatively unknown oilseed -- crambe -- directly into diesel and jet fuel without any need for the specialized processes associated with ethanol or biodiesel production.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission and the U.S. Department of Defense each awarded $500,000 in funding Thursday for the design of a pilot refinery at the existing Man-dan facility, based on processes developed for the seeds in EERC laboratories.

Fuel seed

The crambe seed, which came to U.S. shores from the Mediterranean region in the 1940s, has several advantages over other oils seeds, such as canola, which make it a more commer-cially viable fuel crop.

"Crambe is almost an exact substitute for jet fuel or diesel fuel," said Leif Peterson, spokesman for the Mandan refinery. "It's not ethanol or biodiesel."

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"We're using an oil (that) goes through a catalytic process using heat and catalysts to con-vert it straight to what we would call more of a green diesel, or a renewable diesel or a jet fuel," said EERC's deputy director of renewable fuels research, Chris Zygarlicke. "It's going right to a hydrocarbon fuel."

The hope is that Tesoro will be able to refine and distribute it through their existing re-finery and distribution networks, including pipelines, at a significantly lower cost.

"If this project is ever expanded, we will easily be able to integrate it with our operations here," Peterson said.

Raising crambe

The plant also can be grown less expensively than most crops in the Northern Plains re-gion.

"It can rotate with wheat, especially in some of our drier zones to the west, where we have less moisture," Zygarlicke said. "And it doesn't need as many inputs as some of our tradi-tional food crops."

Crambe plants produce a seed that looks similar to canola except that it has a husk. The seeds are about 30 percent to 35 percent oil, are easy to harvest, and yield from 600 to 1,000 pounds of crushed oil per acre, he said.

"The other good thing about crambe is that it has fewer issues with respect to competing with food crops," Zygarlicke said. "It's more of a fuel crop."

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Unlike existing biofuels, the crambe fuel product does not have to be blended with petro-leum products to make it useful in existing engines.

"That's the beauty of it," he said. "It's meant to be a 100 percent replacement. It's 100 per-cent indistinguishable, and that means pipelining and engine performance."

The refinery designs should be completed in 18 to 24 months, Zygarlicke said. Pending fur-ther funding for construction, the pilot plant then will be built to provide a 500,000 gallon sample of diesel and jet fuels to the Department of Defense for testing.

"We're pretty excited about investigating another means to advance technologies to make green diesel and jet fuel at a larger scale than just our laboratories," Zygarlicke said.

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