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Crambe abyssinica: production and utilization

Crambe abyssinica is a cruciferous plant which is already quite widely grown in the USA. It can be grown as a spring crop in the EU, although available varieties may not be optimized for European climates. Sowing dates and rates for seeding, cultivation and harvesting are established, but pest and weed control still require trials. The crop produces oil with a high erucic acid content, as well as containing a glycosinolate which can be used as a precursor of fine chemicals and polymers, and generating a residue (the hulls) which can be used as a source of cellulose pulp.

Selection trials are being carried out and 12 advanced genotypes are being assessed in comparison with the standard variety. Two genotypes were found to possess a low content of nervonic acid in the seed oil, as demanded for the production of erucamide. It seems that the best area for Crambe cultivation is the Po Valley in Italy. Experiments are required to establish new areas suited to this crop. At the moment, the quantities of seeds are not large enough to supply an oil mill. Hence, oil is extracted on the small scale by pressure. The alpha-cellulose and ash content of the hulls are higher, whereas the hemicelluloses are lower. The lignin content was comparable to that of annual plants. Test have been encouraging, using oil in lubrication as well as in mixtures with petrol for two stroke engines. Oils as an adjuvant in plant protection is also being tested. With respect to glucosinolates, 5-vinyl oxazolidine 2 thione (VOT) and nitrile were tested as anti-fungal compounds, as well as starting material for synthesising new bioactive molecules. VOT was also tested as an anti-tumour compound.


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