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Carinata – an alternative fuel source?

Les Harrison is UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director and Clara Foran is UF/IFAS Wakulla County Family and Consumer Sciences Temporary Program Aide

Renewable resources are the key to sustainability, especially when it comes to energy. In a time when these resources are in high demand, scientists are clamoring for new sources to power America.

The plant, Carinata, may be one of our newest resources here in Florida. The seeds produce an oil which has the capability to become bio-fuel for jet engines!


Brassica carinata, or carinata as it is commonly called, is a leafy plant originating in Ethiopia. This widely cultivated North African crop is sometime called Ethiopian mustard.

In its native habitat, it is cultivated for its mild flavored leaves and is a dietary staple in the hard, scrabble, rural regions of the continent. This crop is also a prolific producer of oil seeds which have recently gained appreciation as a potential bio-fuel.

Like its botanical cousin canola (Brassica napus), the oil from this plant holds the keys to value in the modern world. In the case of carinata, it is the basis for alternative fuels, which are virtually indistinguishable from their petroleum counterparts.

Jet fuel produced with carinata is capable of being formulated as a 100 percent bio-fuel, meeting petroleum standards using technology from Applied Research Associates in Panama City, Florida.

Until now, bio-fuel flights have been restricted to a 50 percent blend with petroleum, as the technology for a pure bio-fuel product was largely unproven.

On Oct. 29, 2012, a Dassault Falcon 20 twin engine jet took off from Ottawa, making a 90 minute round-trip flight to Montreal. The fuel which powered the jet was made from 100 percent carinata oilseed!

A chase plane monitored the air quality of the exhaust from the Falcon 20’s engines, and several engineers were on-board to monitor the engine’s performance. It was the first time a jet aircraft was powered by an unblended, renewable fuel, meeting petroleum jet fuel specifications.

An additional feature of carinata fuels is they need a minimal amount of refining once the oilseeds are crushed and filtered. Ongoing research will help refine production practices, post-harvest handling and oilseed delivery procedures.

This plant which produces the tiny seeds with fuel potential has an additional value to Wakulla County. This prolific bloomer is attractive to European Honeybees which collect the nectar and pollen for their use.

Carinata is an annual crop which begins producing yellow blooms about 60 days after planting. The blooms appear in clusters on stalks above the leaves.

The row of carinata planted at the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension office was planted on March 23 by scattering the seed so that they lodged and were able to germinate. It took about two weeks for the seed to germinate.

Blooming began in late May and was at its peak in June, with the unusually high temperature having no effect on the plant. The plants are now laden with seed pods, each containing 15 to 20 of the tiny oil seed, but there are still some blooms.

The two honeybee demonstration hives at the Extension Office have confirmed the insects will work the blooms, especially in this period when few other plants are flowering. The morning hours find the honeybees repeatedly visiting any carinata blooms.

There will be a succession of plantings this fall to determine if this multi-use crop can extend its bloom past the native nectar and pollen sources. This plant with humble beginning has potential to fly jets, feed bees and people, and give farmers a potential new revenue source.

For more information on carinata and its uses, read the EDIS publication, Carinata Production in Florida.

To learn more about cultivation carinata in Wakulla County, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or at http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco.

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