CSIRO-developed technology has made it possible to produce oil in the leaves, stems and other biomass of plants. This opens up new opportunities in the global production of renewable oils for human food, stock feed, biofuels and other industrial uses.

The challenge

We need more oil

The world is running low on oils. It is estimated that in 20 years' time we will need 50 per cent more plant-based oils to meet the nutritional needs of a global population and there is a growing demand for biofuels.

Our response

Putting oil into leaves, stems etc.

The majority of plant-based oils come from the oil-rich seeds and fruits of a limited number of specialised oil crops, such as canola, soybean, sunflower, olive, coconut and oil palm.

CSIRO scientists have studied how plants make oil in their seeds and used this knowledge to switch on this high-level oil production in vegetative tissue, such as stems and leaves.

Packing more energy into each leaf cell. CSIRO technology is putting oil into plant vegetative tissue.

The technology effectively utilises solar energy captured by the plant to convert the leaf's starch reserves into more energy-dense oil molecules, which significantly increases the energy value of the vegetative tissue where the oil accumulates.

In some plant species, the scientists have achieved 35 per cent oil content in the leaves, which is the same concentration as in many oil seed crops.

The results

Partnering to commercialise our vegetative oil technology

In 2017 we joined forces with US-based company, Amfora, to further develop and commercialise this technology to produce high-energy feed for livestock.

Dairy cattle require six to seven per cent fat in their diet to produce high yields of milk, and this is usually supplied as oil supplements in their diets. Feeding them leaves that already contain significant levels of oil will remove the need for this requirement meaning farmers do not have to purchase feed supplements, such as tallow and cotton seed. It also means less agricultural land is needed to produce feed and fewer greenhouse gas emissions for feed production.

Amfora and CSIRO are collaborating on R&D to develop applications for the technology in corn and to progress applications in sorghum, a crop that has considerable potential for farmers in northern Australia and in dry environments.

The agreement with Amfora is the first major application for the vegetative oil technology. It provides a direct path to market as the oil does not need to be extracted from the leaves before it is fed to cattle.

Future applications, such as the production of industrial oils and bio-based diesel, will require further industrial supply chain development to customise techniques for extracting the oil and converting it to the desired end products.

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