Biotech firm welcomes camelina deal with Dupont

Camelina has drawn the attention of one of the big players in the agriculture industry.

DuPont has signed a technology licensing agreement with Linnaeus Plant Sciences, a Vancouver biotechnology company developing and commercializing camelina oils for use in industrial applications.

“To have a big brother in the playground is great,” said Linnaeus president Jack Grushcow when he announced the partnership in Saskatoon last week at the 10th Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference.

“We believe we have a great partner now to develop and make camelina a reality and somebody who actually wants the feedstock.”

Gaining access to DuPont’s intellectual property and biotechnology expertise will accelerate Linnaeus’s efforts to improve camelina oil.

“We’ve sort of gone from having a popgun to having a howitzer,” said Grushcow.

DuPont said the deal will help the company reduce society’s dependence on fossil fuels by creating non-petroleum based polymers, hydraulic fluids, lubricants and greases.

“This technology transfer to Linnaeus not only advances our environmental sustainability goals but also allows an innovative plant science company to take our technology to the next level in camelina,” said DuPont research director Tony Kinney.

Grushcow anticipates releasing the first new lines of camelina three crop years from now if everything goes as planned.

Existing lines of camelina contain too much linoleic and linolenic acid, which renders the oil “crappy” for industrial purposes.

“We intend to produce high oleic camelina,” he said.

But the project that really excites him is the creation of genetically modified lines of camelina containing an oil that substitutes for castor oil, which is used to make nylon, cosmetics, lubricants, foams and surfactants.

Linnaeus has secured the rights to a piece of intellectual property allowing the company to create camelina lines that produce the hydroxylated fatty acids unique to castor oil.

It has been working with Arkema Inc. on this project. Arkema is the world’s fifth largest chemical company and the largest buyer of castor oil.

Arkema consumes about 50,000 tonnes of castor oil annually, getting its supplies from India, which is the world’s largest producer of castor beans.

Castor oil is in short supply and costs about $200 US per tonne more than canola oil.

Gruschow is convinced he can produce a stable and cheaper supply of castor oil equivalent for Arkema while locking in a good profit.

Linnaeus would require 500,000 Canadian acres of the GM camelina to meet Arkema’s needs. Gruschcow anticipates releasing the first lines in five to seven years.

He believes other companies jumped the gun on camelina, with reports that some of this year’s production contracts are not being picked up.

“I think they came in too early. I can assure you I’m not going to have this crop grown until I’m comfortable that there’s enough money to be made that it’s worth bothering.”

Grushcow believes his industrial lines of camelina will provide higher returns for growers than traditional crops.

The crop can be grown on marginal lands with low inputs, is drought tolerant and is earlier maturing than other oilseeds like canola. If he can’t beat what the biofuel industry is paying for camelina oil, he won’t proceed with the venture.

Grushcow knows how to make money. He was the founder of Consumers Software Inc., one of Canada’s largest software companies that was acquired by Microsoft in 1991.

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