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Boswinkel, G., J.T.P. Derksen, and F.P. Cuperus. 1996. Economic evaluation of new oilseed crops for The Netherlands. p. 296-299. In: J. Janick (ed.), Progress in new crops. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.

Economic Evaluation of New Oilseed Crops for The Netherlands

Gerard Boswinkel, Johannes T.P. Derksen, and F. Petrus Cuperus

  4. Table 1
  5. Fig. 1

Because of the limited variation in oils and fats feed-stocks available for the production of fatty acids and derivatives for non-food products, there is an increasing industrial interest in the Netherlands in the development of new oilseed crops that are optimized for specific applications. The new crops of interest include those that contain a higher percentage of a desirable fatty acid or a lower percentage of undesirable fatty acids and those that contain unique fatty acids. The latter unusual fatty acids could on the one hand replace raw materials from petrochemical origins with renewable resources, and on the other hand, expand the existing range of raw materials available and potentially lead to novel end products. Moreover, consumer products made from renewable resources may also carry an appealling environment-friendly or "green" label.

The development of new crops to provide renewable resources to industry is not only welcomed by oleochemical industries but also very much so by agriculture. A new or increased demand for agricultural products can be beneficial to farmers incomes, but could also diversify the existing range of cash crops, resulting in environmental benefits. In particular the introduction in agricultural practice of plant species that were not previously exploited as crops can lead to a broadening of existing narrow crop rotation schedules, thus reducing the need for pesticides to keep production levels up.

It has been recognized that a major bottleneck in introducing a new plant species as an agricultural crop is the limited knowledge on the proper handling and processing of the agricultural products to industrial raw materials and in the characterization of these raw materials. Although through plant breeding a large number of plant cultivars can be generated, the industry is not so much interested in a field of attractive plants per se. What needs to be added to succesfully introduce a new plant species or cultivar as a novel renewable resource is the know-how to process the plant products to useful and economically attractive specialties or commodities.

As part of the mission of the Agrotechnological Research Institute (ATO-DLO) of Wageningen, The Netherlands to carry out research on increasing the added value of agricultural products in the postharvest phase we have studied the processing of novel oilseed crops. This has resulted in knowledge on the storage and extraction of these new oilseeds, as well as on optimal refining and oleochemical processing of their oils, including potential pitfalls (see references).

However, information on the economic aspects of processing these new seed oils is virtually non-existent. Therefore we assembled cost estimates for the production of certain oils and compounds from new vegetable oilseed crops. In particular, we have studied the production costs, starting from the oilseeds, of crambe oil, methylvernolate, vernolic acid, dimorphecolic acid, and supercritical CO2-extracted dimorphotheca oil (SCE-DMO). This selection was based on information received from oleochemical and (fine) chemical industries on which feedstocks and intermediates would be of value to the industry and, if produced economically competitive, would find a ready market. A summary of this desk study is presented below.


It was assumed that the feedstock for the production of oleochemical intermediates was the cleaned and, if applicable, dehulled oilseed. Therefore it is important to note that costs associated with growing the oilseed crops, harvesting the seeds and cleaning the seeds are not included in the cost estimates given below. For estimating the processing costs of the different products we made the following assumptions:
  1. Three capacities of seed: 10, 60, and 400 t a day. These capacities are at the low end of the production scale, a scale that can be anticipated to be the most relevant during the introduction stage of new agrochemical raw materials, but which provide an indication of the economy of scale.
  2. One year contains effectively 300 operating days, therefore 65 days per year of production capacity "down time" have been taken into account.
  3. Prices were set at US$ 0.07/kWh for electricity, $15.00/t for steam, $0.74/m3 for tap water, 0.15/m3 for natural gas, and 0.35/kg for hexane.
  4. Where solvent extraction of oilseeds was relevant, the hexane loss during the extraction process was estimated at 3 kg/t cake.
  5. The selection of the optimal unit operations for processing of the new crops and seed oils as well as the efficiency of these operations are based on experimental studies performed by the ATO-DLO on new oilseed processing over the past several years.
  6. Costs associated with the purchase of new land and housing to establish a processing plant was not taken into account, since these costs can vary tremendously with location. Moreover, for small scale processing it was assumed that such a plant would find a place in an existing facility, in conjunction with the processing of conventional oilseeds rather than as a stand alone operation. Therefore these cost would be associated only in part with the new oilseed processing facility.


A possible flow-sheet for the production of selected oleochemical intermediates is based on applicable processing unit operation steps as resulting from prior research at ATO-DLO, is depicted in Fig. 1. On the basis of the possible processing routes suggested by the flow-sheet, a choice was made on the preferred processing route to arrive at each oleochemical product under consideration. In Table 1 this preferred flow-sheet is given as a succession of unit operation steps as taken from Fig 1. This preferred flow sheet, tailored to each product, was used as a basis to estimate the production costs of the different oils and derivatives in relation to the processed amount of seeds per day. Higher capacities were not considered to be relevant for SCE DMO. Note that our calculation is limited to processing costs. Costs for facilities have not been incorporated. Our calculations show clearly for all products that increasing the production capacity leads to a decrease in costs per kg of product.

These data should be put in perspective. In Germany the production costs for rapeseed methylester ("biodiesel") are calculated to be US$ 0.25/kg, which is about half that of the US$ 0.47/kg calculated for methylvernolate. However, it should be taken into account that distillation is necessry for the production of pure methylvernolate and this additional process step is largely responsible to the higher costs.

The results also show clearly that the production costs for SCE DMO are almost 6 times higher than the production costs for oil produced by expelling. However the quality of SCE DMO is much higher (Muuse et al. 1994). The production costs for SCE DMO can be decreased by increasing the maximum solubility of the oil in the supercritical CO2.

It is expected that new oilseed crops can be processed at cost levels that are not much different from those for conventional oilseed crops. However, agronomic factors still have a large impact on the raw material, (oilseed costs), and therefore on final product costs.


Table 1. Flow-sheet and production costs for products derived from new seed oils.

Production costs (US$/kg) per day
Crop Preferred flow-sheet (Fig.1) Product 10 t seed 60 t seed 400 t seed
Crambe 1->B+C->D Refined oil 0.18 0.12 0.07
Euphorbia 1->B+C->2a->F Methylvernolate 0.96 0.67 0.47
1->B+C->2b->G Vernolic acid 0.33 0.24 0.16
Dimorphotheca 1->A Refined oil 3.75 -.- -.-
1->B->D->2b->H Dimorphecolic acid 0.63 0.44 0.24

Fig. 1. Flow-sheet showing possible production routes for making vegetable oils or fatty acids derivatives.

Last update August 19, 1997 aw