Pilot production of biodiesel from canola in New England

Final Report for ONE05-048

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,925.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $8,380.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Peter Sexton
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
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Project Information


Note to the reader: While some data is reported below, it is not formatted as the project manager intended. To see the data in the original format, send e-mail to nesare@uvm.edu and request the final report for ONE05-048.

The cost of producing biodiesel from planting an oilseed crop (canola) to processing the oil into biodiesel was evaluated in a pilot run of 17.5 tons of canola seed produced from 30 acres of canola on two farms in northern Maine. One ton of canola oil produced 1260 lbs of meal and 88 gallons of oil in this study. The cost of canola cultivation and storage was estimated to be about $241 a ton. The cost of mechanically extracting the oil was estimated to be $53 a ton. Assuming the seed meal has a value of $150 a ton and subtracting this from the costs noted above, yields a cost of $2.31 a gallon for canola oil. After processing this into biodiesel, there is an estimated breakeven cost of $3.07 a gallon for biodiesel in this system.

Canola variety trials were conducted at three sites in northern New England (Presque Isle, Maine; Orono, Maine, St. Alburg, Vermont).

Project Objectives:

1) Demonstrate the feasibility of producing biodiesel fuel using a locally grown oilseed crop as a source of raw material.

2) Identify and overcome whatever constraints are encountered in production in a sustainable and community conscious manner.

3) Enumerate costs and returns on production and communicate said results to farmers in New England and the Northeast.

4) Identify varieties of canola that would be most promising for production in New England.


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  • Heather Darby
  • Jeff Giggey
  • John Jemison
  • Scott Keirstead
  • Roger Rainville
  • Brandon Roope


Materials and methods:

Canola Production. Canola was chosen as an oilseed crop because it is well adapted to northern Maine. Canola (variety Hyola 401) was sown at a rate of 6 lb per acre in May, 2005 on two farms in Presque Isle, Maine. At both sites, the previous crop had been potatoes. The farms represented two types of management systems including low-input management and conventional management. The low input site was represented by no herbicide or fertilizer applications. At the conventional management site, an herbicide (trifluralin) was preplant incorporated at a rate of 1.5 pint per acre and nitrogen was applied at a rate of 70 lbs per acre as ammonium nitrate. No in-season applications of fungicide or insecticide were made at either site. Both fields were direct combined when seed moisture was less than 11 percent. The seed was kept in one-ton tote bags for four months in an unheated storage (temperatures of -20 to 10 C) until it was crushed. No mold or heating of the seed was observed. Costs of production were estimated by interviews conducted with the farmers after the end of the season. The cost of storage was estimated at $ 8.00 per ton.

Canola variety trials were conducted using a randomized complete block design with four replications at each of three sites (St. Alburg, Vermont; Presque Isle, Maine; Orono, Maine). Plot size was 5 by 20 feet. Twenty six varieties were included in the trials. Plots were harvested at maturity and seed yield and percent moisture were determined.

Oil Extraction: Oil was mechanically extracted from canola seed using an extruder, and expeller (model 1500, and model 2500, respectively; InstaPro, Des Moines, Iowa) which had been set up for crushing soybeans. For canola, the seed was run through the extruder and the expeller, and then the meal was run through both steps a second time to achieve 80 % oil extraction. This work was done in the winter in an unheated structure with temperatures ranging from –15 to –5 C. Under warmer conditions, it is anticipated that a single pass through the extruder, followed by two passes through an expeller would be sufficient. Under the arrangement used here, the system had a crushing capacity of half a ton an hour. If there were two expellers set in a series, and the canola seed was warmed before crushing, then this system would have a capacity of one ton of canola per hour. For economic analysis in this study, the cost of oil extraction was estimated assuming a facility would have two expellers set up in a series and be able to crush one ton per hour.

Biodiesel Production. A small scale batch-system (189 liters per batch) was constructed for processing canola oil into biodiesel. An electric water heater (Kenmore Power Miser 12, Sears Roebuck and Co., Chicago, Illinois) served as the reaction vessel. The system was modeled after one reported by Alovert (2004). Crude canola oil was warmed to 57 C and then methanol and methoxide were introduced as a catalyst. The mixture was agitated using a circulation pump (Clear Water Pump, Northern Tool and Equipment Co., Burnsville, Minnesota). Each batch consisted of 185 liters of crude canola oil, 42 liters of methanol, and sodium hydroxide at a rate of 8 grams per liter of oil. The pump, which circulated the solution, was then engaged for 3 hours and the solution was kept at a temperature of 57 C. After 3 hours the pump and the heating element were turned off and the solution was allowed to sit until the following morning. The glycerin was drained off the bottom, and the methyl ester (biodiesel) was pumped into a storage tank. The crude glycerin was composted. Once the tank was completely drained, then it was refilled and another batch was initiated. The biodiesel was placed in a large tank for washing and storage. Magnesol was added to the biodiesel to help remove impurities. The biodiesel was washed by sprinkling warm water over the surface of the tank in a 6:1 ratio of biodiesel to water. The water with impurities was then pumped out of the bottom of the tank. This washing step was repeated three times. The biodiesel was initially filtered to three microns, and later filtered through a one micron sock filter.

Note that the goal of this project was not to identify the most efficient method of producing biodiesel, nor was it to develop new methods of producing biodiesel. The objective here was to economically evaluate small scale production with commonly used and readily available methods. If this trial were to be repeated, rather than using the reaction vessel as a settling tank, we would suggest having a separate settling tank that could be readily inspected and cleaned as needed, and that could be used for washing each batch of biodiesel as needed.

Research results and discussion:

Canola variety trials were completed at the three farms in New England. Table 1 shows the yield measured for each variety at each site.

Table 1. Results of canola variety trials conducted in the 2005 season at three locations in northern New England. Varieties are grouped by company (not in any particular order).

Presque Isle Orono Alburg

Company Variety Seed Yield Seed Yield Seed Yield
(lb/acre) (lb/acre) (lb/acre)
Pioneer 43A56 1716 1770 1592
Pioneer 46H23 1753 1475 1860
Pioneer 46H02 1882 1323 1916
Pioneer 45H21 2012 1438 1916
Pioneer 46A76 1730 1197 1730
Bayer INVIGOR 2663 1919 1039 1906
Bayer INVIGOR 4870 2192 1143 1928
Bayer INVIGOR 5630 1837 1670 1733
Cropplan Hyclass 712 1832 1263 1786
Cropplan Crosby 1779 1541 1755
Cropplan Oscar 1541 1534 1551
Cropplan HyClass 905 1936 1627 1787
Cropplan HyClass 2061 1816 1515 1861
Cropplan KAB-36 1914 1448 1777

Cropplan Minot 1747 1326 1637
Interstate SW Patriot 1836 1854 1906
Interstate Hyola 357 1839 1690 1669
Interstate SW Marksman 1740 1758 1781
Interstate Hyola 401 1957 1167 1810
Interstate Hyola 514 2019 1443 1844
Interstate Hyola 420 1822 1412 1704
Interstate Hylite 618 CL 1513 1180 1577
Interstate SW Titan 1985 1367 1866

CV 13.6 18.4 10.4
Average 1838 1444 1778
LSD (0.05) NS 377 135
P-Value 0.142 0.001 0.0001

At two farms in the Presque Isle area, canola was produced for pilot production of biodiesel. Costs of production for the two farms are shown in Table 2. Based on these data we estimate a cost of production of $241 a ton for canola produced with conventional management.

Table 2. Variable costs for production of canola grown in northern Maine. Data are based on 8 and 20 acre fields of canola grown on two farms in the Presque Isle area. Custom application costs were used to estimate expenses associated with application of herbicide and fertilizer, as well as for harvest.

Item: Units per acre Cost/acre
Land Rent 35.00
Soil Test 0.08 1.00
Harrow Two passes 16.00
Nitrogen 70 lbs 32.20
Boron 1 lb B 2.20
Fertilizer Application custom application 9.00
Trifluralin 1.5 pint 4.66
Herbicide Application custom application 9.00
Seed 6 lb 22.20
Seed Drill 4 acres/hour 10.00
Harvest Custom Combine 25.00
Trucking 0.8 tons 14.40
Storage 0.8 tons 6.40
Management fee 5 % of above costs 9.35
Interest 10 % for 6 months 8.07

Variable Cost Conventional Management 204.48
Variable Cost Low-Input Management 147.42

Cost per ton of canola Conventional Management $241/ton
Cost per ton of canola Low-Input Management $268/ton

The cost of crushing the canola is estimated at $52.67 a ton as shown in Table 3. The final cost for biodiesel estimated to be $3.07 per gallon (Table 4).

Table 3. Estimate of canola crushing costs for mechanical extraction of oil from canola seed. The analysis assumes a plant capacity of 18 tons per day and an estimated total capital of $1,010,000. The interest expense given in the table assumes a loan of $750,000 that will be repaid over an eight year period at an interest rate of 8 percent, with the remainder of the capital ($260,000) being equity.

Plant Capacity - 18 tons per day or 5580 tons per year (310 days per year)
Crushing Plant – Estimated Total Capital Cost of $1,010,000
Item Rate Annual Cost Description
Payment on Capital Costs 8 % 97,356
Labor One person per shift 85,117 $9.50/h with 22 % benefits
Electricity $0.09 per kwh 94,909 190 HP @ $0.09 per kwh
Fuel Oil $2.80 per gallon 3,750 1,500 gallons
Maintenance $0.75 per ton 4,185 5580 tons per year
Administrative 3% of above 8,560 Accounting, etc.

Total Annual Costs 293,876

Cost per ton 52.67

Table 4. Estimated cost of processing biodiesel in this study. A small scale system utilizing a water heater as a reaction vessel was used for this trial. The cost of Magnesol is not included in the table – it would add about 4 cents per gallon to the total cost.

Item Units/batch Units cost/unit cost/batch percent
Canola Oil 60.0 gallons 2.31 138.76 77
Reagents 8.0 gallons 2.31 18.49 10

Labor 1.6 hours 11.00 17.60 10
Other 0.002 apparatus 2800.00 6.50 3

Cost per batch 181.35 100

Cost per gallon 3.07

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

A paper based on this work is currently in progress. Results have been presented to growers and other interested parties at biodiesel conferences in Vermont (South Royalton, June, 2006) and Maine (Bangor, September, 2006). These results have also been presented to meetings of professional crop advisors (Portsmouth, February, 2006 and 2007). A summary of this work was also published in the December, 2006 issue of Spudlines (a newsletter for potato growers in Maine). A summary of the work was also provided to the Maliseet Indians of Houlton, Maine, and to their financial backers, who are considering establishing a biodiesel production enterprise.

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Future Recommendations:

These trials were a useful first step in evaluating the potential of producing biodiesel from canola and also in gaining additional experience with the crop in on-farm trials. More funds should be allocated for quality control and testing in future work of this sort. It is our thought that canola production could be greatly expanded in New England.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.