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Report, 2006


Carlsson Anders, Stymne Sten, Dyer John


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY EPOBIO is an international project to realise the economic potential of plant-derived raw materials by designing new generations of bio-based products that will reach the marketplace 10-15 years from now. At a Workshop held in Wageningen in May 2006 a wide range of experts considered the Flagship theme of plant oils and identified a lubricant product developed in the non-food oilcrop Crambe abyssinica as the first target for EPOBIO to consider. This report sets out the conclusion of a detailed literature review and an analysis of environmental impacts and the economic case. It also takes account of inputs from international scientists and industrialists. Bio-renewables, such as plant-derived oils, are a sustainable means of providing the essential products needed by society. In this context, plant oils are already major agricultural commodities with around 20% by value used for non-food applications. Two plant-derived fatty acids, erucic and lauric acid, have been competing with petroleum alternatives for many years. Historically, cost has been the major bottleneck limiting the development of new plant-derived oils. But, in the context of the escalating cost of crude oil and also the increasing concerns about both finite supply and security of supply, there is an emerging strategic need to develop additional renewable products from plant oils. This report shows that the production of wax esters for the manufacture of lubricants, from the non-food oilcrop Crambe abyssinica can become viable in Europe. Viability would be further enhanced in scenarios where the hulls and meal remaining after oil extraction are used to produce heat and/or electricity for use in the production process. In addition to the economic benefit of using the co-products for bioenergy, this alternative to the use of fossil-derived energy would have the advantage of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and making a contribution to renewable energy targets. The reduced environmental impact of this renewable product demonstrates sustainable production. Crambe is a low input crop when compared to many other oilcrops that could be cultivated in Europe. This offers potential to reduce the use and hence environmental burden of fertilisers and water. Crambe has been chosen as the candidate crop platform for industrial production of wax esters because its oil is not suitable for use in food applications. This is an essential requirement since the manufacture of wax esters in Crambe can only be achieved through genetic modification of the plant. The report recommends a gene discovery programme to identify the relevant enzymes for production of the relevant wax esters in high yields in parallel to optimisation of a routinely applicable plant transformation system for Crambe and an agronomy programme to achieve a robust, mainstream agricultural crop. There is existing intellectual property (IP) in the area of wax ester production in oilcrops – this is typical of many applications involving the use of plant biotechnology. Analyses of the existing patent landscape and the opportunity for commercial development of wax esters in Crambe will be essential tasks needed to underpin future research and development of this application. The implications for the use of a genetically modified plant, the impact of current GMO regulations in Europe and the associated substantial regulatory compliance costs have to be considered. Small and medium sized enterprises are unlikely to be able to bear the costs associated with these issues and so future exploitation is likely to be undertaken only by multinationals. Taken together, these constraints have the potential to limit development in Europe and lead to a continuing dependence on imported fossil oil and a continuing loss of competitive advantage to other countries and regions where the cultivation of genetically modified crops is not constrained. The risks associated with the use of a genetically modified crop can be mitigated in a number of ways. First, the use of a crop which cannot be used for food or feed is important. This is considered essential from a regulatory perspective, given that the infrastructure in agriculture cannot ensure ‘fail-safe’ separation of differentvarieties/traits in the same crop species. However, the use of a non-food crop can have negative consequences since oilcrops such as Crambe have not been optimised for mainstream agriculture and their oil yield needs to be improved. Second, risks can be further mitigated by the choice of a crop for which interspecies crosses with the closest-related species give sterile offspring. It is not anticipated that Crambe will be able to cross easily with its related species. A third means of risk mitigation is the adoption of the same identity preservation practices for the cultivation of non-food GM crops as those already in place for the cultivation of GM foodcrops. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has decoupled subsidy from production and brought a new emphasis on market forces. Crambe for oil production could be grown on maincrop land and also on set-aside land, for as long as that cultivation option is retained in the CAP. The development of a new crop with clear market potential could help underpin commercially focussed farming in the future. Developments such as this will help to create and sustain employment both in the farming sector and in rural areas. In addition, the optimisation of processing an oilcrop for wax ester production will link into opportunities for integrated and zero waste, rural biorefineries further delivering economic benefit in rural areas. Beyond Europe there is significant potential to develop alternative sources of wax esters. The report notes that current jojoba varieties have scope for improvement in collaboration with developing countries. Collaboration with the US on alternative crops such as soybean could benefit from information exchanged by research programmes on European oilcrops such as Crambe

Published in

ISBN: 10: 1-872691-03-X
Publisher: CPL Press, Tall Gables, The Sydings, Speen, Newbury, Berks RG14 1RZ, UK

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Crop Science
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Crop Science
Dyer, John

UKÄ Subject classification

Renewable Bioenergy Research
Agricultural Science
Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

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