Eco-Energy, University of Idaho partner to develop oilseed varieties for biodiesel

By | January 10, 2007
A European company and the University of Idaho (UI) have teamed up through a research and development agreement. Eco-Energy Limited of Gibraltar will provide about $2 million to the university to develop oilseed varieties to make biodiesel, according to Jack Brown, UI professor and plant breeder.

This isn't the university's first venture into oilseeds. "We have been developing oilseed types for biodiesel for at least 15 years," Brown said.

Eco-Energy will pay UI a royalty for the oilseed cultivars that the university develops. The company is currently in the process of building biodiesel plants in Europe and is also interested in becoming a biodiesel feedstock provider, Brown said.

According to the research agreement, UI will develop new cultivars of mustard, canola and rapeseed. "I think we will have product in the marketplace within five years," Brown said, adding that the project will be reevaluated and likely extended at the end of that five-year period.

UI will continue to develop cultivars with specific fatty acid profiles. Typically, oilseeds low in polyunsaturated fat are high in saturated fat, and oilseeds high in polyunsaturated fat are low in saturated fat. "We're developing oils hopefully that will have both good attributes," Brown said.

Oilseeds low in saturated fat content produce biodiesel with good cold-flow properties. Those with low levels of polyunsaturated fats produce biodiesel with reduced NOx emissions and a better shelf life. The goal is for an oilseed feedstock to produce high-quality biodiesel. "It's like anything else," he said. "The highest quality will always command the highest prices."

Researchers will also look at seed meal properties. As more oilseed crops are crushed, especially with the growth of biodiesel production, that will become a critical issue. "There's almost certainly going to be a glut of meal for the livestock industry," Brown said.

Researchers will work to create oilseed cultivars with higher oil content, as well as good qualities for livestock feed. Companies or individuals with the higher-value meal would have the best chance to sell it, he said.

Secondly, researchers will continue study and develop of biopesticides, primarily looking at mustard seed but also rapeseed or canola seed. UI researchers are working to create a mustard seed that, once added to soil and water, will work as a designer pesticide to kill weeds, bacteria or fungi.

Mustard contains glucosinolates, which give it its pungency, Brown said. The glucosinolates, though not harmful to humans, produce a toxic compound when mixed with saliva, which explains how the seed meal could be used as a pesticide.

If researchers are successful in creating a biopesticide, it could be used in organic farming as a natural product. That would be a boost to the organic farmers, many of whom currently pay farm laborers $1,000 per acre to hand-weed their crops.
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