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Most farmers would call Crambe (kram-bee) a new crop, but it’s actually an old one whose time has come. Known botanically as Crambe Abyssinica, this member of the mustard family originates from the Mediterranean area.


Its seed contains 30 to 35 percent oil; nearly twice that of soybeans and, of this, 55 to 60 percent is composed of erucic acid.


What is Crambe Bio-Oil?


Crambe oil produced from pressing crambe seed. It can then be converted into a number of industrial and energy uses.


Crambe oil is a good source of long-chain fatty acids, useful as a chemical feedstock because the longer the hydrocarbon chain, the more things that can be made from it. Potential industrial uses include the manufacture of a wide range of plastics, coatings, and lubricants Crambe is an industrial oilseed.


The oil, as mentioned above, contains high levels of erucic acid. Erucic acid can be converted into erucamide which is then used as a slip agent in plastics and is a constituent of heat sensitive dyes. The erucamide market is growing at a rate of between 4% and 10% per year.


The crop A cruciferous plant, Crambe is a fast growing annual crop. It is a combinable crop requiring no special equipment. After extensive trials and development work, the crop has been grown on a commercial scale in various locations since 1990’s.




Scientific Details


  • Scientific name: Crambe abyssinica
  • Origin: Mediterranean
  • Wide climatic adaptation including high altitude tropics and sub-tropical regions
  • Spring crop (or winter crop in Mediterranean climates)
  • Yields similar or higher than spring rapeseed
  • High level of erucic acid (C22:1 > 60 %)
  • Only used for non-food oil applications
  • The height varies between 70 and 90 cm, depending on planting time and density
  • It is an erect annual
  • The flowers are small, white and numerous
  • Flowering within 35 days of establishment and it can be harvested 90/95 days after the planting
  • The grain is round and coated with a brown hull
  • Opportunities
  • Improved seed oil and seed meal using mutation breeding
  • New oil types using GM




In order to grow crambe economically, not only do the agronomic conditions have to be suitable but maximum value has to be obtained for the residual vegetable fraction (the meal) remaining after extraction of the oil. The meal represents 54% of the weight of the products of processing and 30% of the income. The meal is used in the animal feed industry. Techniques exist which add value to the meal include:

  • Removal of the seed hull to improve the nutritional value of the meal
  • Improvement in the palatability of the meal during oil extraction


The blockage to the commercial development of crambe has centered on the meal left after the oil has been extracted. Unless treated correctly, the meal has poor nutritional value and consequently, low economic value. Nutritionally, the meal has high levels of glucosinolates that are the compounds that cause the sharp taste in mustard. Not surprisingly, animals reject feed including untreated crambe meal. Additionally, crambe seed is covered by a coat (the hull) that accounts for 20% of the seed weight. Processing techniques have been developed which enable the full value of the meal to be achieved firstly by using dehulling equipment to remove the hull and secondly by reducing the glucosinolate content during the oil extraction process. Dehulling also improves the efficiency of oil extraction.


The hull is virtually all fibre and has a low nutritional content. Thus to date its value has not been considered a positive factor in crambe processing. The hulls do however have a potential value as a fuel for energy production based on their calorific value as a renewable addition to a fuel mix.


The hull be used as cellulose source for the paper industry.


A sensitivity analysis of crambe oil production with and without dehulling shows that crambe production is uneconomic without gaining a higher value for the meal using specific dehulling and processing technology.


Credible sales of the oil and meal can only be achieved with presentation of reliable specifications for the products. The following quality date is required to commercialize the crop.




  • Fatty acid profiles
  • Free fatty acid content
  • Moisture and impurity
  • Sulphur
  • Phosphorus




  • Proximate analysis
  • Amino acid profile
  • Mineral profile
  • Digestibility
  • Glucosinolates




  • Heat or power






It is widely recognized that international policy is beginning to influence the way in which land is used for production of energy crops. This is demonstrated in the North American Renewable Fuel Standard and the European Renewable Energy Directive and Fuel Quality Directive. In parallel, the international standards setting body, ISO, is currently developing a standard to help assess the sustainability of biomass for energy applications.


In addition to these policy and standards setting processes, there is growing consumer awareness of sustainability issues, through the adoption of retail marks such as the forestry stewardship council; sustainable biofuels; rainforest alliance and fair trade. These standards cover a range of requirements, including environmental, social and ecological standards coupled with green house gas assessment methodologies which increasingly consider indirect land use change effects.


Common threads can be identified across these standards. These include green house gas accounting methodologies; good agricultural practice; societal benefit and protection of terrestrial or aquatic ecosystems.


The agronomic benefits of crambe fit very well with these developing carbon and sustainability reporting requirements. The ability to generate a viable yield from lower inputs on marginal land opens up significant sustainability benefits that allows the management team to optimize the value in the supply chain depending on local, regional and international standards and requirements.



Fig. 1. Stability of erucic acid content in diverse advanced materials Crambe abyssinica of PRI. Open triangle: cultivar Galactica, open square: 9104-71.


In field trial in the Netherlands in 2008 (Grebbedijk, Wageningen), 20 experimental lines of PRI were assessed for yield, oil content and oil composition. Figure 1 shows that the cultivar Galactica had one of the highest contents of C22:1. The variation between lines was very consistent in this trial as the results in 2 blocks of trial were highly stable.