Since 2011, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Professor John Cushman has been conducting biofuel research in the University of Nevada, Reno greenhouses on Valley Road. Camelina sativa, pictured above, is a rapidly growing plant in Nevada whose oils can be chemically converted to create biodiesel. “If we can grow our fuel here, we don’t have to import it,” Cushman said. “Right now, Nevada imports the vast majority of its fuel. We want to try and change that in order to help diversify the economy.” Cushman is working with professors Jeff Harper and Karen Schlauch, within the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Natural Resources, to improve the drought-tolerance and production traits of Camelina in order for Camelina to become a more productive biofuel crop in Northern Nevada.
Besides Camelina, Cushman, pictured above, and his team have been experimenting with prickly pear cactus for bioenergy production. Not only are these cacti extremely productive, but they also require only 20 percent of the water required by more traditional crops, making them a potential bioenergy crop for Nevada. “Not only could we make ethanol from them, but also we would like the plants to make more energy-dense hydrocarbons such as biodiesel, renewable diesel or jet fuel,” Cushman said. Currently the plant produces mainly sugars and structural carbohydrates; however, the metabolism of the plant can be redirected to produce lipids or oils, which are more easily converted into biofuels.