Australian scientists move closer to petrochemicals alternative

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Personal care products Petroleum

Scientists working for organisations backed by the Australian
government say they are working on methods that will turn plants
into 'biofactories', capable of producing oils that can replace

Petrochemicals and their derivatives are used as a base ingredient in a host of personal care products - namely in the skin care category - as well as to produce plastic packaging.

But with the move towards more natural formulations and biodegradeable packaging, combined with the fact that the price of oil continues to rise, personal care companies are keen to source cheaper and more eco-friendly alternatives.

Scientists working within the joint CSIRO/Grains Research and Development Corporation Crop Biofactories Initiative (CBI) say they have bridged a major gap in research work by accumulating 30 per cent of an unusual fatty acid (UFA) from the Arabidopsis plant.

Alternative to petrochemical-derived UFAs These UFAs are often derived from petrochemicals for personal care products, but the scientific team says that their work is taking them closer to producing UFAs from Arabidopsis oilseeds.

As well as providing a more reliable source for UFAs, the discovery makes an important step towards increasingly important 'bioeconomy' goals that are driving green manufacturing principles.

Likewise, UFAs are also sourced for plastics, which could be incorporated into biodegradeable packaging for a range of personal care products.

"Using crops as biofactories has many advantages beyond the replacement of dwindling petrochemical resources," said CSIRO team leader Dr. Allan Green.

"Global challenges such as population growth, climate change and the switch from non-renewable resources are opening up many more opportunities for bio-based products," he added.

Good for the environment and the pocket But as well as the benefits to the environment and the credence this brings to marketing personal care products sourced from sustainable eco-friendly ingredients, the news also hits on another major issue currently facing cosmetics manufacturers - costs.

With the price of crude oil recently touching a peak of $118 a barrel, and some experts predicting that it could reach $200 a barrel in the future, the rush to find cheaper alternatives to petrochemical-derived ingredients is on.

The scientists stated that if demand for the plant-based UFA was high, this could easily be met because the high-value crops could be matched to suit growing conditions and specific agricultural techniques.

The organisations say that they have now completed the first stage of the research projects and that the next stage is now under way.

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