Fuel from white lupin?

White lupin, hemp, broad beans, corn and Jerusalem artichoke may some day provide the raw material for Finnish biofuel, believes Annukka Pakarinen, who defended her doctoral dissertation on second-generation biofuels.

Fuel from white lupin?

In her study Evaluation of fresh and preserved herbaceous field crops for biogas and ethanol production, Pakarinen compared the properties of five potential fuels. The results show that each of them has strong points.

White lupin and broad beans are excellent sources of methane, but Jerusalem artichoke and hemp show the most promise for the production of ethanol. Corn, well suited for both, was the fastest grower.

"It is most likely that the biofuels of the future will be a cocktail of several plants and, for example, biowaste," Pakarinen says.

A domestic alternative

Pakarinen also studied the impact of preservation on the energy production potential of the plants. Hemp was the most promising in this respect, showing improved production of methane after storage. On the other hand, storage considerably deteriorated broad bean's ability to produce methane.

Enzymes were used to split the polymer structures of corn and hemp for the ethanol production process; the process clearly improved the ethanol production potential of the plants.

Even though domestic plants still can't compete with sugar cane or palm oil as an energy source, Pakarinen believes that Finland will one day be able to farm its own car fuel.

"Technological advances are of course necessary. We also need more cars that are able to use methane as a fuel."

Cross-disciplinary cooperation

Pakarinen's dissertation was the result of exceptionally wide cooperation.

Even though the subject officially fell into the field of environmental engineering in agriculture and thus the Department of Agricultural Sciences, Pakarinen carried out the practical work at the chemistry and biochemistry sections of the Department of Food and Environmental Sciences. Applied Biology provided the information on the cultivation of the plants, and preservation know-how came from Animal Science. In addition, some work was completed in Hämeenlinna as a cooperation project with the HAMK University of Applied Sciences.

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Text: Juha Merimaa
Photo: Fred Stoddard
Translation: AAC Global
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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