Seed Oil May Feed Plastics

APPARENTLY stymied by canola's pest and other problems in in the region, North Dakota researchers are looking at other oil-seed crops. One of the most promising is crambe. It's a high erucic acid crop that, like industrial rapeseed, could be used in manufacturing plastics and nylon. ``It would probably feed the high-end petroleum market,'' says John Gardner, superintendent of North Dakota State University's research extension center in Carrington. ``This year was a test year.''

Farmers this year planted some 2,000 acres of crambe in an experiment for the US Department of Agriculture. The crambe was harvested by regular farm machinery (a plus for farmers) and crushed two weeks ago by National Sun Industries, a sunflower processor based in Minneapolis.

``Based on this crop, we are very optimistic about crambe,'' says Jeff Berkow, president of National Sun. Next year, he hopes to get farmers to raise 10,000 acres of crambe. ``At 10,000 acres, it begins to be something of a commercial venture.''

The company sold the crambe oil to Calgene Chemical, a subsidiary of Calgene Inc., which resold it to companies manufacturing lubricants and plastics additives.

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