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Published: 2 May 2012

‘Super safflower oil’ set to replace petroleum feedstocks

CSIRO researchers say new varieties of the safflower plant containing high levels of oleic acid could provide a clean source of industrial oils.

The new safflower plants are supercharged with oleic acid.
Credit: CSIRO

They have produced safflower seed oil that contains more than 90 per cent of this valuable fatty acid: the highest level of purity of an individual fatty acid currently available in any plant oil.

The new safflower type will provide Australian grain growers with an opportunity to produce and supply renewable oils that could replace petroleum-based feedstocks in the manufacture of industrial products.

Dr Allan Green, Deputy Chief of CSIRO Plant Industry, said the breakthrough provides a plant oil that combines high purity for industrial chemical production with stability for direct use in industrial lubricants and fluids.

‘Plant oils contain a range of fatty acids including both monounsaturates and polyunsaturates,’ he said.

‘For food use, it’s important to have a healthy balance of these. However, the polyunsaturates cause problems for industrial use because they are unstable and difficult to remove during oil processing.’

The CSIRO team used gene silencing technology to boost the level of 'desirable' oleic acid in the seed by switching off its conversion to the 'undesirable' polyunsaturates.

‘We have succeeded in dramatically lowering the polyunsaturates to below 3 per cent, thereby raising the monounsaturate oleic acid to over 90 per cent purity,’ Dr Green said.

This new ‘super-high’ oleic safflower was developed by the Crop Biofactories Initiative, a strategic research and product development partnership between CSIRO and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

Dr Jody Higgins, Senior Manager Commercial Grain Technologies at the GRDC, said the breakthrough development could create a new crop industry in Australia, initially suitable for farmers in northern NSW and southern Queensland.

‘Safflower is an old crop known from ancient times, but it is very minor crop in Australia today because of the low local demand for its current oil quality type,’ Dr Higgins said.

‘Interestingly, safflower was originally grown in Australia as an industrial crop where the oil was used to make paints and resins,’ she said.

Safflower is ideal for Australian biofactories as it is a very hardy and adaptable crop that does well in warm-season conditions and should cope well with the expected stresses of climate change.

‘Our market intelligence has shown that global demand for high purity oleic acid oil could require over 100 000 hectares of super-high oleic safflower, which is comparable to the size of the cotton industry in Australia,’ Dr Higgins said.

Source: CSIRO

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