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$10 Million Research Agreement Aims at New Uses for Plant Oils

MIDLAND, Mich. and EAST LANSING, Mich. — An innovative research alliance is joining scientists from private industry and the public sector to create new industrial products from agricultural plants, rather than petrochemical plants, and to improve nutritional content for certain plant oils.

Through the Oilseed Engineering Alliance, announced today between The Dow Chemical Company, Dow AgroSciences LLC, Michigan State University, Miami University, Washington State University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, researchers are pooling their expertise to improve specific oils and fatty acid traits of soybeans, canola, sunflower and other crops.

Dow Chemical and Dow AgroSciences are committing more than $10 million to the Oilseed Engineering Alliance over a five-year period to hire additional researchers and fund new initiatives.

“By making plant-oil based raw materials a workable choice for some types of chemical and plastics production, we could encourage their use as more sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels for producing a variety of useful, everyday products,” says R.M. Gross, vice president and director of research and development, The Dow Chemical Company. “There is also potential to improve environmental profiles for some industrial processes and enhance nutritional content for these oils as well as uncovering additional, innovative uses for them.”

The Oilseed Engineering Alliance makes a team effort out of long-standing individual research programs. According to John Ohlrogge and Mike Pollard, professors of botany and plant pathology at Michigan State — the project’s coordinating university — the key to the research is the idea that plants can easily perform chemistry that is difficult for chemists using traditional methods.

The research will aim to coax plants to produce fatty acids and oils that are more stable and better suited to manufacturing and nutritional needs. It also could make the plant oils easier to extract, and therefore less expensive, so they can be competitive with petroleum-based products. It’s a matter of combining nature’s effectiveness with technology’s efficiency to encourage sustainability.

“We wanted to get the best available people in the world to tackle these areas,” Ohlrogge says. “Only by gathering these people to work together would we have the critical mass needed to make things happen.”

Each individual Alliance researcher brings specific expertise and skills to the project. Dow Chemical and Dow AgroSciences add a better understanding of marketplace needs and expertise in processing and commercialization required to bring about competitively priced products based on renewable resources.

“The Oilseed Engineering Alliance represents a commitment by Dow Chemical, Dow AgroSciences, and Alliance members to achieve breakthrough thinking in the field of plant-derived oils,” says David Rowe global business leader of Value-Added Grains for Dow AgroSciences. “We are looking for a new horizon of possibilities where plant-derived oils deliver new solutions to important problems in nutrition, health care and material science.”


Brookhaven National Laboratory

“This partnership is an exciting opportunity for me. I am enthusiastic about participating in this effort to define the basic science that underlies carbon partitioning in seeds. If successful, these studies may lead to improved crops that will be able to produce renewable sources of materials currently obtained from petrochemicals. The production of these materials by plants is driven by sunlight and results in essentially no waste products. This would provide a remarkable capability to achieve favorable environmental performance with low energy use and limited to no waste streams.”

John Shanklin, PhD, biochemist
Brookhaven National Laboratory

Miami University

“The opportunity to be a part of the Oilseed Engineering Alliance is exciting for a number of reasons. To begin with, the Alliance consists of five principal investigators, all accomplished in their own right, pooling their complementary expertise to attack problems which would be very difficult, if not impossible, to do individually. Dow is funding this at a level that will allow us to carry out the best science we can with a cadre of bright post docs. The relationship that the Alliance has with Dow is also worth noting. I believe that this is only the beginning of a fruitful scientific relationship in which we end up with quite a major effort to maximize the potential of oilseed engineering.”

Jan Jaworski, PhD
Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Miami University

Washington State University

“I am very excited to be helping to launch this new initiative in oilseed engineering. The generous resources provided by The Dow Chemical Company and Dow AgroSciences will complement and extend our current research on the synthesis of vegetable oils in plants and take this research to a new level of understanding and practicality. I look forward to the day when we can provide, on the one hand healthier food oils and on the other hand alternative, environmentally friendly ways to produce plastics, resins and other chemical products that enhance people’s lives.”

John Browse, PhD

Washington State University

For More Information:

Michigan State University
Lisa Rudgers, (517) 353-7958

The Dow Chemical Company
Adrianne Proctor, (517) 636-5636

EDITOR’S NOTE: Contacts for other Alliance participants are as follows.

Dow AgroSciences: Christine Kirby, (317) 337-4807
Miami University: Claire Wagner, (513) 529-7592
Washington State University: Terence L. Day, (509) 335-2930 w, (509) 334-1619 h
Brookhaven National Laboratory: Diane Greenberg, (631) 344-2347

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