From earth to sky: science sends mustard seeds to new heights

Agrisoma Biosciences Inc.

September 26, 2013 — Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Brassica carinata is an industrial oilseed mustard crop that has been converted into biojet fuel.

Brassica carinata is an industrial oilseed mustard crop that has been converted into biojet fuel.

Brassica carinata or “carinata” is an industrial oilseed mustard crop that has become a star in the aerospace and agricultural arenas. It can be sustainably produced in the semi-arid conditions of the southern Prairies not suited for other oilseed crops. With support from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), Saskatchewan-based Agrisoma Biosciences Inc. has successfully demonstrated commercial-scale cultivation and processing of carinata, and expects to bring new products to market in record time.

“We have converted carinata seed oil into biojet fuel, used successfully in the world’s first 100-per-cent biojet civilian flight by NRC in Ottawa last year. Popular Science magazine highlighted this as one of the top 25 scientific events of 2012,” says Patrick Crampton, Agrisoma’s vice-president of Business and Product Development. “As the demand for fuel and seed production rises, we are also focused on developing uses for the co-product—a high-protein feed meal. It has the potential to be an ideal livestock feed, but the current concentration of glucosinolates, an anti-nutritional compound, limits the use to cattle markets.” .

While biofuel is in production and generating revenue for the company, marketing the meal is critical to making the economics work for farmers. If the meal’s full value is not attained, the cost of producing fuel is prohibitive. Yet improving the quality of the meal requires significant investment in research and testing of new plant varieties.

Planting the seeds of success with revolutionary science and technology

Brassica carinata is an industrial oilseed mustard crop that has been converted into biojet fuel.

Brassica carinata is an industrial oilseed mustard crop that has been converted into biojet fuel.

Crampton points out that an innovative kind of breeding—double haploid (DH)—helps Agrisoma researchers quickly select the best genetic plant material for reducing glucosinolates in carinata meal. “Thanks to NRC-IRAP, we have been able to get our DH breeding program up and running using the latest technology, and accelerate the development of new plant varieties.” A traditional breeding program takes ten or more years to produce a new variety; DH breeding can slash that to five. This means Agrisoma can get new varieties to market in about half the time.

“We have tested double haploid plants in Saskatchewan fields, and by the end of this winter we will have reached a throughput of 5,000 types of DH plants from which new varieties can develop. This is 4,000 more than we would have had without NRC-IRAP’s help,” he explains. Agrisoma is also working closely with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s parallel traditional breeding program to ensure the best varieties are available to producers.

Crampton is impressed with NRC-IRAP support, but stresses that the company first had to prove that it had a solid management team, a sound business proposition, and clear vision, goals and objectives. “Once we were accepted into the program, our Industrial Technology Advisors (ITAs) Wayne Craig and Mark Pasloski became active members of our team, coming to us with fertile ideas, industry connections and strategies for accelerating growth.” Pasloski adds that NRC-IRAP provided research funding that Agrisoma would have had difficulty getting elsewhere. “We wanted to be involved because they were developing a unique product that would have huge benefits to Canada.”

Brassica carinata is an industrial oilseed mustard crop that has been converted into biojet fuel.

Brassica carinata is an industrial oilseed mustard crop that has been converted into biojet fuel.

Harvesting results with productive collaborations

Carinata mustard oilseeds have been converted into biojet fuel and were used in the world’s first 100-per-cent biojet civilian flight.

Carinata mustard oilseeds have been converted into biojet fuel and were used in the world’s first 100-per-cent biojet civilian flight.

Agrisoma’s future lies in building on its success in the biojet fuel business, and in realizing the full potential of the carinata crop by using its proprietary Engineered Trait Loci (ETL) biotechnology to produce high-yielding varieties with oil and meal products that appeal to broader markets around the world. In addition to support from NRC-IRAP, the company collaborates with organizations such as the Department of National Defence, Applied Research Associates (ARA) and Chevron Lummus Global. It also collaborates with the NRC R&D portfolios of Aquatic and Crop Resource Development (formerly Plant Biotechnology Institute) and Aerospace (formerly Institute for Aerospace Research).

“We view NRC-IRAP as one of our core supporters, and we would not be here today without them.” – Patrick Crampton.

Reaping the benefits:

  • Agrisoma can now get new carinata varieties to market in half the time.
  • The 13-employee company foresees hiring three additional staff during the next year.
  • Farmers in semi-arid areas of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta will have opportunities for cropping diversification and new revenue streams.
  • Biojet fuel helps reduce the aviation industry’s carbon footprint.

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