The EC FP7 project
Industrial Crops producing added value Oils for Novel chemicals

A world-wide plant biotechnology project to
replace fossil oil with renewable plant oils

Counting from Nov 5, 2008


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New crops to break the chemical industry’s dependency on crude oil

In one of the largest biotechnology consortia, the latest biotechnology tools are being used to develop high value plant oils to replace the fossil oils currently used in the global chemicals industry.

The ICON project, a 4 year global collaboration involving 23 partners from 11 countries sponsored by the European Union, has gathered a significant proportion of the world’s most prominent plant lipid scientists.

It aims to develop high-yielding sustainable oil crops that can produce the right oils for lubricants and the chemical industry, with substantial environmental benefits, energy savings and economic returns for farmers.

The partnership is using genetic engineering technology to modify new oilseed crops that are not used for food purposes. The plants Crambe abyssinica and Brassica carinata are being modified to  switch from producing triglycerides to making wax esters, which are much more resistant to high temperatures and pressures than normal plant oils. This will substantially increase the industrial uses of plant oils.

While there are a range of alternatives to using fossil fuels for energy production, only biological materials can replace fossil oil derived lubricants and industrial chemicals. Furthermore, fossil oils require a lot of energy to process, energy that could be saved by developing innovative oil crops that produce special oils for specific requirements.

Global requirements for high value industrial oils could also see farmers receiving premium prices for these new crops. The relatively small area needed to grow industrial oilseed crops will take up a minimum of valuable food production land, which is in contrast to the cultivation of energy crops.

The ICON project is coordinated by SLU, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

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