Using ‘Old’ Tools For Better Biodiesel

Findings from studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists, and published in the Journal of Near Infrared Spectroscopy, have shown that “old” stand by techniques could help optimize oilseed yield for biodiesel production. For more than 30 years, near infrared (NIR) reflectance spectroscopy has been used to measure protein, moisture and oil levels in whole grains.

Dan Long, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) research leader, is heading up the study to learn how remote sensing tools could assess oil quality and quantity before and after harvest.  ARS is USDA’s main scientific research agency and supports the USA in finding new ways to develop bioenergy.

Long used a special NIR sensor to assess seed oil content in 226 canola samples from Montana, Washington and Oregon. Seed oil concentration is used to estimate extraction efficiency, which is the percentage of oil recovered in relation to the amount of oil in seed.

Using this technique, oil concentration in the samples ranged from 32 percent to 46 percent with an average error of .73 percent. Long believes that NIR sensors could be installed in seed crushing facilities to rapidly and continuously measure the oil content of clean seeds flowing into the expeller, where they are crushed to obtain the oil. Long believes that using NIR to monitor extraction efficiency could enable workers to adjust the choke setting on the expeller to compensate for oil loss in meal.

Improving the oil ratio would boost profits associated with seed processing and lower the costs of oil feedstock that is used to produce biofuel. NIR measurements might also help reduce the number of acres needed for oilseed feedstock production by maximizing seed oil extraction rates in the seed crushing facilities.

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