Dedicated High-Value Biofuels Crop

Advanced Research Projects Agency • ENERGY • PETRO Grant

Critical Need

Ever increasing global demand for energy requires alternative, sustainable sources to replace dwindling and unreliable foreign petroleum imports. Cellulosic biofuels and electric vehicle technologies are advancing, but remain limited by prohibitive production costs or lack of broad applicability. Liquid transportation fuels based on plant seed oils (e.g. biodiesel and green diesel) have tremendous potential as environmentally, economically and technologically feasible alternatives to petroleum-derived fuels. In addition, biofuels derived from seed oils are minimally carbon neutral.

Project Innovation & Advances

This project will establish a new paradigm for a sustainable bioenergy crop with high yields of plant oils that can be directly converted to fuels with existing technologies.

We are developing a dedicated liquid biofuels crop using Camelina sativa, a non-food cool season crop with low agronomic requirements, high seed yields and oil content. We are introducing highly efficient mechanisms of photosynthetic carbon fixation from photosynthetic bacteria to realize a 100% increase in plant productivity. In parallel, we are modifying the metabolic pathways of lipid synthesis in Camelina to redistribute the increased fixed carbon unto oils and terpenes. We have optimized the range of genetic resources that allow the introduction or knockdown of genes of interest in Camelina, thereby providing the essential methodologies for the development of Camelina as a high yield biofuels crop. This project will yield a lower cost seed oil feedstock from a more robust, non-food crop thus making this bio-oil based fuel cost-competitive and completely sustainable as opposed to petroleum-based fuels.


ARPA-E PETRO UMassAmherst TIMBR signature imageThis project addresses three major limitations to sustainable, commercially viable biofuels production:

  • Develop a dedicated non- food biofuel/bioproducts crop that can be cultivated in a broad geographic range,
  • Increase crop yields by genetic engineering of plant chloroplasts to optimize photosynthesis, and
  • Increase the production of seed oil and chemicals, thereby increasing the overall yields and suitability for the production of biofuels/bioproducts.

Our goals are to double the current estimated maximum seed and fuel yield of a particular plant species, thereby requiring less than one million acres of cultivation to achieve 100 million gallons per year target for commercial viability.

Funding Year: 2011
Project Term: 1/2012-6/2013
Program: Plants Engineered to
Replace Oil (PETRO)
Tech Topic: Biofuels & Renewable
Power Generation
ARPA-E Award: $1,482,264

ARPA-E Public Summary

UMass Contacts

Danny J Schnell, Principal Investigator
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Jeff Blanchard, Co-Investigator

Michelle DaCosta, Co-Investigator
Plant, Soil, & Insect Sciences

Jennifer Normanly, Co-Investigator
Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Om Parkash, Co-Investigator
Plant, Soil, & Insect Sciences

James Demary, Project Manager

Partner Organizations

Kristi Snell, Metabolix Inc.
Director, Plant Sciences

Amit Dhingra, Washington State University
Horticulture and Molecular Plant Sciences

Cheryl Kerfeld, UC Berkeley
DOE Joint Genome Institute, LBNL