The COSMOS project seeks to reduce Europe’s dependence on imports of coconut and palm kernel fat and castor oil as the raw materials for medium-chain (C10 - C14) fatty acids and polymer components. These are used by the oleochemicals industry to produce surface-active substances, lubricants, plasticisers, high-quality polyamides and other products. To meet the demand for European raw material alternatives for these products, COSMOS wishes to develop the oilseed crops ‘Crambe’ and ‘Camelina’ into profitable, sustainable, multi-purpose, non-GMO European sources for the production of oleochemicals.
The primary objective of the COSMOS project (2015 - 2019) was to develop and optimise value chains for the oilseed crops ‘Camelina sativa’ and ‘Crambe abyssinica’ and to use their oilseed to create European equivalents for coconut and palm kernel oil. The latter contain high quantities of medium-chain (C10 - C14) fatty acids, which are important raw materials for a range of oleochemicals in products including cleaning agents and personal care products. State-of-the-art plant breeding methods, separation technology, chemistry, and biotechnology are used for this purpose.
Wageningen Plant Research has succeeded in using state-of-the-art breeding techniques, such as EMS mutagenesis and CRISPR/Cas9, to improve the fatty acid composition of camelina and crambe oil and to significantly reduce the ‘anti-nutritional factors’ content (bitter substances) in the seeds. This makes the oils more suitable for chemical conversion into the intended medium-chain fatty acid derivatives and ensures that the seed residues can be used as high-quality animal feed once the oil has been extracted. The entomology department at Wageningen University has had success in cultivating insect larvae on rations of seed residue from camelina and crambe. The larvae of the black solider fly appear to be particularly adept at converting the feed into valuable proteins and fats. The composition of the insect fat correlates very strongly with that of coconut and palm kernel oil and is therefore a supplementary source for the intended medium-chain fatty acid derivatives. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research has developed an enzymatic process to separate the unique fatty acids in camelina and crambe oil from the less valuable ‘common’ fatty acids, and at the same time to convert these more common fatty acids into valuable ingredients for products including cosmetics and personal care items.