New crop has potential to displace castor oil imports.
development for over 20 years, this new breakthrough crop called lesquerella
has the potential to displace castor oil imports, thus benefiting manufacturers
of cosmetics, toiletries, inks, plastics, paints and industrial chemicals,
while reducing U.S. trade deficits and offering a profitable alternative crop
to American farmers.
AZ – It is planting time, and excitement is high for a new specialty oilseed
crop called lesquerella (les-kuh-REL-uh), which - perhaps fortuitously - rhymes
with Cinderella and has been dubbed the “princess of new crops.” A
breakthrough, lesquerella has the potential to displace castor oil imports,
thus benefiting multiple industries, reducing the U.S. trade deficit and offering a
profitable alternative crop to American farmers. Further, with different
functionality, lesquerella is a potential improvement over castor that brings
with it new opportunities. Technology Crops International is leading the
commercialization of the new crop, adding lesquerella to its portfolio of new
crops on the heels of the successful commercialization of cuphea last year.
Crops International is leading the commercialization of a new specialty oilseed
crop called lesquerella, dubbed “the princess of new crops.” Experts say that
lesquerella oil has improved functionality over castor and is of tremendous
value to industry. The winter crop can be grown in rotation with food crops and
offers southwestern U.S.
farmers greater returns than traditional commodity crops.
Can Potentially Displace Castor Oil Imports
In development for over 20
years, lesquerella has the potential to displace castor oil imports and, with
its improved functionality, may find significant uses beyond that of castor.
Experts believe the crop has greater commercial potential than any new U.S. crop
developed in recent years.
“Lesquerella has huge potential, and a large number of companies are interested,”
said Dr. Terry Isbell, research leader in the New Crops and Processing
Technology Research Unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural
Research Service (USDA-ARS) at Peoria, IL.
Castor oil is used as a lubricant and in cosmetics, toiletries, inks, plastics,
and paints, but all castor oil used in the U.S.
is imported (primarily from India)
and is subject to fluctuations in both price and supply.
Significant Benefits to Growers
“This crop offers a
significant opportunity for growers,” said Andrew Hebard, president and chief
executive officer at Technology Crops International. “Lesquerella will be
priced on contract and will provide growers with higher returns than are
traditionally earned on commodity crops,” he said.
A member of the mustard family, lesquerella is known to scientists as Lesquerella
, a hardy winter oilseed crop with excellent salt tolerance
that grows well in the arid soils of the American southwest, including Arizona,
New Mexico and Texas. The crop blooms bright yellow and produces a small seed
that provides a high oil yield of 30-40%. Lesquerella produces approximately
1,500-1,800 pounds of seed per acre, which translates to 450-540 pounds of oil,
or about a drum, per acre. Yields in excess of 2,000 pounds of seed per acre
Unlike other oilseed crops, lesquerella is valued for both its oil and gum. The
gum has the potential to be used as a thickener in various industrial and food
products, much like xanthan gum.
“An unusual and valuable trait of lesquerella is the water-soluble gum on the
seed, which may become a major selling point,” said Dr. David Dierig, a
USDA-ARS research geneticist in Maricopa, AZ, who has been working on lesquerella
his entire career.
Even the hulls left over after the lesquerella oil and gum have been removed
have value. According to Dierig, the hulls contain higher-than-average protein
levels of 30-35%, and meal from the hulls can be used as a protein supplement
in livestock feed.
“The seeds don’t shatter, and the crop is harvested using normal combining
methods and equipment,” Hebard said. “Lesquerella is also attractive to growers
because it is a winter crop that can be grown in rotation with food crops.”
does lesquerella oil compare to castor? Comparison of physical properties.
Lesquerella Superior to Castor
Research has shown that, in
some areas, lesquerella is superior to castor. According to a study in Industrial
Crops and Products
(23, 2006, p. 54), due to the lack of solvents
and catalysts needed in its processing, lesquerella may offer a more
cost-effective base stock for lubricants and functional fluids than current
Lesquerella is not just a replacement for castor, but has different
functionality, offering superior performance and opening the door for broader
applications. “This oil is better than castor,” said Spencer Awbrey, an
industrial chemist who currently works as a senior research fellow with PSP
Science and Technology in Texas
and has done troubleshooting work for almost every chemical company in the
industry over his 35-year career. “It’s like castor on steroids,” he said with
a laugh. “Lesquerella has great lubrication capacity. It makes excellent
greases, it is biodegradable, and it has good oxidation stability.”
Lesquerella oil contains fatty acids that are 20 carbons long (C20) versus 18
carbons (C18) for castor oil fatty acids. The longer the carbon chain length,
the better the oil’s value for industrial purposes.
“Lesquerella is an excellent chemical feedstock,” said Awbrey. He has developed
products using lesquerella oil and thinks industrial chemicals are a key area
to use plant alternatives to petroleum products. “If you make biodiesel, you
replace only about one-fourth of a barrel of petroleum. But if you make
chemicals, you will replace eight times that - approximately two barrels. The
difference is in the processing. Petroleum burns well, but it has to go through
so much processing that it is quite expensive and inefficient for manufacturing
chemicals. Lesquerella offers huge savings in energy and an increase in yield
without unwanted byproducts. This oil allows us to do chemical reactions at a
fraction of the temperature and pressure required for petroleum.”
Most Promising Uses Perhaps Yet to be Discovered
“In my opinion, the best uses
for lesquerella oil may have yet to be investigated,” said Professor Keith
Coupland, director of the Centre for Lipid Research at the University of Hull,
U.K. “For example, dyestuffs, specialty chemicals, nutritional and medicinal
uses are yet to be explored,” he explains.
Coupland is a synthetic organic chemist who once worked for Exxon in the U.S., where he
helped develop Uniflo motor oil. Before joining the university, Coupland was
involved in the development of a medicinal oil used to treat ALD
(adrenoleukodystrophy), a rare degenerative nerve disorder. The oil is called
Lorenzo’s Oil and inspired the movie by the same name.
According to a March 2004
report in the Chemical Market Reporter
(CMR), total castor
oil exports from India
were estimated from 165,000-170,000 tons, and castor oil derivatives at
30,000-35,000 tons. In mid-August 2006, the publication listed the price for
castor oil at $0.43/lb, and derivatives ranged from $0.65 to $1.05/lb.
According to Awbrey, the U.S.
uses about 60 million pounds of castor oil per year, which represents an
approximate value of $25.8 million.
A Fairytale Future?
“The only problem now is that
not enough of this crop is being grown,” Awbrey said.
According to Hebard, “Companies that need lesquerella oil can simply contract
with us for acreage. At Technology Crops International, we manage the entire
supply chain for specialty oil users, providing them with oil products grown,
harvested, transported and processed under our close supervision, thus ensuring
our clients a cost-competitive, assured, sustainable supply of raw material.”
Isbell said, “This first year’s commercial crop production is just the tip of
About Technology Crops International
Technology Crops International
is a global leader in the evaluation, development, commercialization and
delivery (supply-chain management) of new and high-value strategic oilseed
crops, such as high erucic acid rapeseed oil, high oleic sunflower oil,
meadowfoam, cuphea, lesquerella, camelina, and echium. The company offers
expert services in specialty crop contracting and serves the biotechnology,
pharmaceutical, industrial chemical, specialty nutrition, and medical-foods
industries. With offices in the U.S.
and the U.K.,
Technology Crops International supplies clients around the world with safe,
sustainable, traceable, and cost-competitive crop-derived products.
For more information, visit www.techcrops.com or
phone (877) 780-5882.