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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

We are looking 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.

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.

[Image shows a close-up of a leaf]

[Text “Leaf Oil” appears on the screen]

[Text “180 megatonnes of plant oils are currently consumed each year, with many uses…” appears on the screen]

[Image shows livestock, food, fibres and a fuel pump]

[Image shows a shot flying over a canola field, with the text “Canola 26 MT/Y”]

[Image shows a field of sunflowers, with the text “Sunflower 15 MT/Y”]

[Image shows a tractor in a soybean field, with the text “Soybean 47 MT/Y”]

[Image shows an oil palm plantation from above, with the text “Oil palm 70 MT/Y”]

[Text “But.. we need more…” appears on the screen]

[Text “Leaf Oil” appears on the screen]

[Graph appears showing 75 megatonnes of use in 1998, 185 megatonnes in 2017 and 220 megatonnes in 2036. Source: USDA, OECD/FAO.]

[Text “By studying seeds rich in oil we can now make oil in leaves” appears on the screen]

[Text “Actually, we can make a lot more oil…” appears on the screen]

[Image shows a comparison between a wildtype and high oil tobacco plant, with 1% oil in the wildtype and 33% oil in the high oil plant]

[Text “Bottle = 1t oil/ha” appears on the screen]

[Image shows a comparison between a soybean (half a bottle of oil), sunflower (three-quarters of a bottle of oil), canola (one bottle of oil), oil palm (five bottles of oil) and tobacco (five bottles of oil]

[Text “And this is only the beginning” appears on the screen]

[Image and text shows pictures of tobacco (33.3% oil – CSIRO), potato (3.3% oil – CSIRO), sorghum (8.4% oil – CSIRO), sugarcane (8% oil – PETROSS) and ryegrass (7% total lipids – AgResearch ata matai, matai whetu)]

[Image shows a tobacco field]

[Text “Welcome to the next plant oil boom” appears on the screen]

[CSIRO logo appears with text: Australia’s National Science Agency]

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