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Castor beans: an ‘ideal clean biodiesel feedstock’

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Earth Gen-BioFuel, (EarthGen or the company), has announced that, based on it is 2016 international planning tour, it expects that worldwide demand for castor beans to exceed demand for the next 10 years.

George Shen, Chairman, said, "The ever expanding end uses of castor oil and its derivatives make it imperative that world castor bean production be increased. During operational planning for 2016 and 2017, I have toured our area of operations in Laos and received reports from our agricultural advisors in Singapore, China, and South America. We have confirmed reports that the demand for castor beans and castor bean derivative products exceeds current production by a wide margin. These facts, and EarthGen's goal of becoming one of the largest US-based growers of castor beans, is the basis for the company's expansion goals."

The operating plans call for starting castor bean operations in South America and in the US. Plans also include adding 4000 acres of castor bean farms in Laos over the next two years. It is estimated that 4000 acres of new farms are capable of producing 8500 tpy of castor beans that could produce annual sales of approximately US$4.5 million, based on today's world market prices. The planting schedules are subject to finalising land use rights in these areas and obtaining additional working capital.

In the recent April 2016 report published by Castor Oil Reports, they noted that castor oil is possibly the plant oil industry's most underappreciated asset as its one of the most versatile of plant oils. It is used in over ten diverse industries and is the starting material for producing of over 700 end products. New applications of castor oil are being explored in areas such as pharmaceuticals and biopolymers/bioplastics. The report concluded that these end user markets for castor oil and its derivatives are expected to expand significantly over the next few years.

Castor Oil Report also highlighted that uses of castor oil have changed over the years. Many years ago, castor oil was primarily used for medicinal purposes and as a general industrial lubricant. Today, chemical engineers have come up with many uses of castor oil and its derivatives such as: polyamide 11 (nylon 11 fibres, for example, are used in domestic and industrial carpet manufacturing) engineering plastics for heat tolerant automotive and air plane parts, lubricating grease, coatings, inks, sealant, aircraft lubricants, surfactants, emulsifiers, encapsulants, plastic films, plasticiser for coatings, and components for shatterproof safety glass. Castor oil has even made its way into cosmetics and related products.

Even as more uses for castor oil are emerging, EarthGen believes that the demand for castor oil will be most affected by its use as a ‘clean fuel’ biodiesel. One example of this is cited in studies carried out by Evogene Ltd., an Israeli-based agricultural hybrid seed company. The report of tests in Brazil for biodiesel and biojet fuel production utilising castor beans found castor beans to be an effective drought tolerant and high oil yielding crop.

The expanding use of castor bean oil, and the results of Evogene's tests, confirm that castor beans are an ideal ‘clean biodiesel’ feedstock and is a contributing factor as to why Earth Gen is accelerating plans for castor bean farming in California by utilising non-farm land to cultivate a high value drought tolerant castor bean crop.

US demand for castor bean oil is reported to exceed supply by approximately 100 000 t or about US$120 million. Castor bean oil demand in the European Economic Community is reported to exceed demand by 500 000 t or about US$500 million. China’s demand is reported to exceed supply by 1.2 million t or about US$1.3 billion. Brazil, a leader in biofuel utilisation, reported castor bean oil demand of 300 000 t more than supply or about US$300 million. It is the same in other regions of the world such as Japan, Thailand, and India where castor bean oil demand is reported to exceed supply by over 1 million t.

These demand figures are for using castor bean oil for manufacturing and not the expected future demand for use as ‘clean biodiesel’. EarthGen believes that, based on import demands from the major industrial countries and the need of chemical manufacturing for castor bean oil as a feedstock, that the market demand for castor beans already greatly exceeds current production.

Adapted from press release by Francesca Brindle

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