New U.S. Crop Seeks to Replace Imported Oils

By Harriet McLeod, Reuters - Posted on ENN

CHARLESTON, S.C. — A small North Carolina-based specialty crops company is trying to turn a humble wildflower into a major new oilseed crop that could produce an alternative to coconut and palm oils.

After 20 years in development, cuphea (koo-FEE-ah) will start its second planting this spring in the Midwestern United States.

"It's grown (as a crop) nowhere else in the world," said Andrew Hebard, chief executive of Technology Crops International in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which is leading the commercialization of cuphea.

The plant's seeds contain novel fatty acids along with lauric acid, which is used as a wetting and foaming agent in soaps, detergents, shampoos, toothpaste and even airplane fuel.

The world market for lauric oil was about 4.5 million tons in 2003, the most recent year for which figures are widely available, according to market reports. The United States consumed about 1.5 million tons of that, mostly from Southeast Asia.

Cuphea could reduce U.S. reliance on imported tropical oils like palm and coconut. It could also cut dependency on some petrochemicals and give American farmers a new crop to rotate with corn.

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