In a quest to balance demands for biofuels with those of food production, University of Georgia engineers are searching for non-food crops from which to make alternative fuels.

And the oilseed radish may fit that bill, says Dan Geller, a biological engineer with the university's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Athens.

The radish is widely grown in Canada as a cover crop to improve the soil and prevent erosion in fields. But it isn’t typically grown for food.

Its seed is about 40 percent oil by weight, says Nicholas Chammoun, a graduate student working with Geller. This makes it an excellent candidate for the biodiesel market.

For his research, Chammoun had oilseed radish seeds crushed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Peanut Research Laboratory. The oil was then converted into biodiesel by the biological and agricultural engineering department.

“This sounds like a short and easy process,” he said in a new release. “But it actually took a long time since there was very little data on converting oilseed radish oil to biodiesel.”

Next, he had to prove the new fuel would  work in diesel engines and perform as well or better than No. 2 diesel and other existing biodiesels.

The oilseed radish biodiesel passed the engine tests, performing much like No. 2 diesel, Chammoun says.

Economic research data also was used to assess radish-produced fuel's economic potential as a Georgia cover crop.

“They would harvest in the spring, and the crop would also protect the soil in the winter,” Geller says.

He calls the research results promising, but notes there is one large missing piece to the puzzle—crushers.

"The big kicker is which comes first, the farmer or the crusher?” Geller says.