Oklahoma State University


Canola as a Biofuel Crop

Canola (Brassica napus and B. rapa) was once considered a specialty crop in Canada but has become a major North American cash crop. Canada and the United States produce between 7 and 10 million metric tons of canola seed per year.  Annually Canadian exports total 3 to 4 million metric tons of the seed, 700,000 metric tons of canola oil and 1 million metric tons of canola meal. The United States is a net consumer of canola oil. The major customers of canola seed are Japan, Mexico, China and Pakistan, while the bulk of canola oil and meal goes to the United States, with smaller amounts shipped to Taiwan, Mexico, China, and Europe. World production of rapeseed oil in the is about 14 million metric tons.

As is typical of mustard plants, canola begins growth primarily in a prostrate habit, and when it begins reproduction seed stalks grow upright with plants reaching 4 to 5 feet tall.  Pods form first on the lower stem, and gradually pods develop towards the top of the plant. Bottom pods are typically 12 to 18 inches from the ground, when mature. Each canola pod has several seeds in a single row; pods are somewhat prone to splitting open (shattering) if harvest is delayed too long. Canola plants are highly branched, which helps the plant compensate for thin stands.

Canola was developed through conventional plant breeding from rapeseed, an oilseed plant with roots in ancient civilization. The word "rape" in rapeseed comes from the Latin word "rapum," meaning turnip.  Turnip, rutabaga, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mustard and many other vegetables are related to the two canola species commonly grown: Brassica napus and Brassica rapa. The negative associations with the word "rape" resulted in the more marketing-friendly name "Canola". The change in name also serves to distinguish it from regular rapeseed oil, which has much higher erucic acid content.

Winter canola has a good potential for increased production in Oklahoma and is grown in rotation with winter wheat.  Understanding the production requirements and developing markets are still challenges in the southern Great Plains but should be overcome in time.

As an oilseed crop canola could be used as a biodiesel instead of conversion to ethanol as in most other grain crops.  While the potential as a biofuel crop exists for canola, it is not likely to be highly important.  Canola oil is in high demand and using it for biofuel would compete with it production for canola oil for human consumption.  In addition, canola does not meet many of the commonly stated characteristics of a good biofuel crop.  It is a non-native species that could become envasive.  It requires good crop land to make good yields; thus, replacing a food crop acres.

Web sites about canola as a biofuel crop:




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