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Eur J Lipid Sci Technol. 2011 Jul;113(7):812-831.

Replacing fossil oil with fresh oil - with what and for what?

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1
Department of Plant Breeding and Biotechnology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Alnarp, Sweden.

Abstract

Industrial chemicals and materials are currently derived mainly from fossil-based raw materials, which are declining in availability, increasing in price and are a major source of undesirable greenhouse gas emissions. Plant oils have the potential to provide functionally equivalent, renewable and environmentally friendly replacements for these finite fossil-based raw materials, provided that their composition can be matched to end-use requirements, and that they can be produced on sufficient scale to meet current and growing industrial demands. Replacement of 40% of the fossil oil used in the chemical industry with renewable plant oils, whilst ensuring that growing demand for food oils is also met, will require a trebling of global plant oil production from current levels of around 139 MT to over 400 MT annually. Realisation of this potential will rely on application of plant biotechnology to (i) tailor plant oils to have high purity (preferably >90%) of single desirable fatty acids, (ii) introduce unusual fatty acids that have specialty end-use functionalities and (iii) increase plant oil production capacity by increased oil content in current oil crops, and conversion of other high biomass crops into oil accumulating crops. This review outlines recent progress and future challenges in each of these areas.Practical applications: The research reviewed in this paper aims to develop metabolic engineering technologies to radically increase the yield and alter the fatty acid composition of plant oils and enable the development of new and more productive oil crops that can serve as renewable sources of industrial feedstocks currently provided by non-renewable and polluting fossil-based resources. As a result of recent and anticipated research developments we can expect to see significant enhancements in quality and productivity of oil crops over the coming decades. This should generate the technologies needed to support increasing plant oil production into the future, hopefully of sufficient magnitude to provide a major supply of renewable plant oils for the industrial economy without encroaching on the higher priority demand for food oils. Achievement of this goal will make a significant contribution to moving to a sustainable carbon-neutral industrial society with lower emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and reduced environmental impact as a result.

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