Northern Maine Project Turns Seed Crops into Fuel

Contact: Peter Sexton (207) 764-3361; David Munson (207) 581-3777

ORONO, Maine – Working in collaboration with businesses in northern Maine, UMaine Cooperative Extension Crops Specialist Peter Sexton has completed a pilot project that successfully converted Maine-grown seed crops into 1000 gallons of the alternative fuel biodiesel. The project offers an exciting glimpse into Maine’s potential as a producer of oil seed for use as fuel.     

Utilizing of his expertise in field crop research, Sexton planted 30 acres in Aroostook County with oil-rich mustard and canola. The experimental plots yielded more than 25 tons of oilseed, which were pressed during the winter by CHB Proteins, an independent mill that is one of several small businesses participating in the project.

More than 2000 gallons of raw canola oil was extracted from the seeds harvested from Sexton’s test plots. A portion of the thick, amber oil was later blended with petroleum-based fuel to produce the state’s first 1000 gallons of homegrown biodiesel, an alternative fuel blend that can be used in the same way as traditional diesel fuel without any engine or burner modifications. While Sexton will keep a portion of the fuel for testing and demonstration purposes, more than half of the biodiesel is already being put to use — warming homes and fueling farm equipment in northern Maine. Already available at select sites across the state, biodiesel produced elsewhere is rapidly increasing in popularity as an alternative to all-fossil fuels that are produced largely overseas.

While oil from field crops will likely remain only a small piece of the nation’s energy puzzle, Maine has the potential to greatly increase its oil seed production, either as part of a potato rotation program or as its own cash crop

“Within the potato rotation in Maine, if we produce 10,000 to 15,000 acres of canola, then we could in theory produce approximately 800,000 to 1,200,000 gallons of biodiesel,” said Sexton. “Biodiesel has less toxic emissions, better lubricity for engines, and is more biodegradable than straight fossil fuels. It also contributes less to global warming because growing the plants and burning their oil just moves carbon dioxide through its natural cycle, rather than inputting new CO2 into the atmosphere like oil that is pumped out of the ground. At a societal level, biodiesel is just a small percentage of what we use, but it’s a step in the right direction.”