While the aviation sector now accounts for 2.6% of global CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, research has been launched for several years on sustainable aviation fuels (CAD). The objective is to produce synthetic fuels without petroleum or composed of 30% to 50% biokerosene in order to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 60 to 70%.
However, to refine them while respecting standards, oil companies need oils of very pure quality from oilseed plants that must not compete with those of the food sector. Thus, in Villiers-en-Désœuvre, supported by the Avril group, a pioneer in biofuels in Europe, farmer Fabrice Moulard is taking part in an experiment with Camelina, a hardy plant native to Northern Europe and Central Asia (also known as bastard flax or German sesame), cultivated for more than 3,000 years, in particular to be used in the manufacture of soaps and paints.
A sector that grows
On his 200 hectares, Fabrice Moulard decided "on an experimental basis to grow seven hectares of camelina in order to participate in the decarbonization of air transport. This is to identify the territories where this plant can develop in interculture, so between two main crops, because we harvest earlier and earlier. So there is room. Camelina brings a lot of advantages because it allows me to meet my regulatory obligations to put plant cover on my fields during the summer so to store carbon permanently through photosynthesis. It does not compete with food or feed crops because it grows in less than 100 days. »
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That's not all. "In addition to the oil from its seeds, the leftovers (so-called oilcake) become protein for the animals. Camelina is drought resistant and therefore requires little water and no input such as herbicides. It thus protects biodiversity. It can provide additional income. With this crop, as well as rapeseed for road vehicles, farmers have a role to play in the fight against global warming as long as it does not compete with other plantations," says Fabrice Moulard.
250,000 hectares by 2030
Planted in May or June, camelina seeds are harvested right now, in late September or early October: "The stems stay on the ground to feed it. The seeds go to an industrial unit of the Avril group to be crushed. The oil is then separated from the protein that will be used by the animals. Will the oil be refined to meet the specifications of oil tankers," explains Kristelle Guizouarn, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Avril Group.
As intermediate oilseeds are rare, "the Avril group also tested carinata (Abyssinian mustard), another plant that can grow without the need for additional land and is environmentally friendly. But, after more than five years of work, camelina seems the most promising to meet the global standard and French demand. Roughly speaking, one hectare produces one tonne of seeds. In 2030, we could supply 100,000 liters of oil and with a yield of 35%, it will require 250,000 hectares of camelina cultivation. »
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To ramp up production and attract new harvesters like what is done in Villiers-en-Désœuvre, "in addition to technical and risk management issues, farmers must be educated and ensure a decent income within a European regulatory framework," continues Kristelle Guizouarn. This is a global strategic issue insofar as air transport is progressing and will represent 1/5th of CO2 emissions by 2050 knowing that liquid fuel will always be needed. So the only way to achieve the objectives is largely through biofuel," says the agricultural engineer.