Monday, January 14, 2008
Oilseed Fun in Montana
As a city slicker, I'm used to finding my oil ready made (ie in the oil dumpster out back of the restaurant). A missing piece for me has been how's that stuff get produced to begin with. At the MSU Oilseed & Biodiesel Conference in Billings last week, I learned a thing or two about farmin', crushin', and doin' some real work! This day and a half conference was excellent, complete with the perspective of the farmers, the scientists (featuring world-renowned biodiesel expert Jon van Gerpen from Univ of Idaho biodiesel ed program), economists, and government officials. My favorite presentations were by a rancher Ken deBoer who with little previous farming experience, decided he wanted to try and grow his own fuel. He planted camelina seed on two lots that he said were bad and really bad as far as soil quality. And without watering or fertilizing he was able to actually get plants to grow, gathered seed, crushed it and produced some oil- about 14 gallons from his two 1/2 acre lots (and 500 lb of seed). His yield was only about 350 lb per acre, which is low compared to the 1000+ lb some have achieved. His one-ton crusher was real slow (and is now for sale!), and he learned a lot of other things about the process. Another speaker pointed out that you can save yourself a lot of time and money if you use a bigger crusher and just get the job done faster.
Interesting fact- the cake from camelina crushing is highly nutritious with very high protein content- cows love it!
The presentations from this and other Montana biodiesel workshops are now online here.
After the workshop, we visited a farm where they had an oil seed press up and running. They were still breaking the crusher in, with not a lot of oil coming out yet. Apparently the crushing screw has to be worn smooth before it becomes very efficient. Their operation looked very Rube Goldberg and kinda like a scene from the movie Brazil- with the steam billowing out (used to heat the press), and the separate motor galloping along, with long drive belts flapping about. Check out the short video of these intrepid crushers: by the way, the crusher is from tinytechindia.com
Here's the you tube crushin' vid..