Blog icon

The challenge

Growing demand for oil

The world is running low on oils. Demand is forecast to grow rapidly in coming years owing to rising world population, increasing per capita food oil consumption, and accelerating demand for biofuels.

It is estimated that in 20 years' time we will need 50 per cent more plant-based oils. This growth needs to be supplied using essentially the same amount of land and natural resource inputs.

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.

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

Our 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.

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.

The results

Creating the next oil boom

In some plant species, we have achieved 35 per cent oil content in the leaves under greenhouse conditions, which is a similar range as in many oilseed crops. The high oil trait was largely confirmed when plants were grown in the field. 

The oils we produce in the leafy biomass are normal triglyceride type oils – just like canola oil, soybean oil, and other vegetable oils – and are distinct from the essence-type oils already produced in some other plants (such as eucalyptus or lavender).

Our results have shown for the first time that leaves can be turned into efficient oil factories. This means we can potentially produce very high yields of vegetable oil in high biomass crops like switchgrass, sugarcane and sorghum as a novel sustainable source of energy-dense oil for food, feed, biomaterials and biofuels markets.

[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]

CSIRO research has developed a novel method of lifting the yields of biomass boil out of plants – a necessity in the face of increased plant oil demand.

Share & embed this video



Embed code

<iframe src="//" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; fullscreen" allowfullscreen></iframe>


Do business with us to help your organisation thrive

We partner with small and large companies, government and industry in Australia and around the world.

Contact us now to start doing business

Contact us

Find out how we can help you and your business. Get in touch using the form below and our experts will get in contact soon!

CSIRO will handle your personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and our Privacy Policy.

First name must be filled in

Surname must be filled in

I am representing *

Please choose an option

Please provide a subject for the enquriy

0 / 100

We'll need to know what you want to contact us about so we can give you an answer

0 / 1900

You shouldn't be able to see this field. Please try again and leave the field blank.