Production of High-Oleic Sunflower Oils

Since their introduction as new born sunflower varieties in the late 80 ies, high oleic sunflowers needed their time to expand in cultivation. The reason for that was the high price of the oil and the varying content of oleic acid in the beginning. Now varieties improved a lot: the oleic acid content is much more stable and climbed up to more than 90 %, the yield of oil from HOSF cultivation per hectare almost reached the level of conventional "hig-linoleic" sunflowers (CSF). One problem is still existing: for the processing of seeds and oil - from seed growing to oil refining - a quality management has to be installed, if a certain minimum high oleic acid content has to be guaranteed. If mixed up with CSF (what easily occurs), the oleic acid content is disappearing rapidly and the benefit will follow. For that and due to the somewhat higher risk of lower yields, the prices for oleic oils still exceed those of CSF oils, although they are constantly sinking: for "standard 80" HOSO today a premium of 20-40 % has to paid, with prices depending sometimes on oleic acid content. But as HOSO offers many total cost reducing advantages, this moderate premium is sometimes acceptable, and with expanding HOSF cultivation area the cost should rather decrease.



Besides the more and more established HOSF, other high-oleic oilseeds are leaving breeder´s laboratories: safflower types reached a certain cultivation level, genetically modified high-oleic soybeans are cultivated in the US on a few thousend hectares (though not marketed today), HO rapeseed varieties (GMO and non-GMO) will follow in the next years. Many breeding companies work on their development, so further improvements can be expected.

Table: Production of HO Oils

  • HOSF: industrial volumes available, strong growth forecasted
  • HO Ra / HO Soy: status of breeding (GMO) and pilot cultivation
  • HO Safflower: low hectare oil yield
  • Olive: mainly for food purposes, difficult to enlarge area

    As there is no official agricultural statistic on HO cultivation, data of oil production are difficult to obtain. In USA, France, Spain and Italy the new HOSF have been grown since a few years. HOSF cultivation in Germany began in the early 90 ies, funded pilot cultivation projects helped to expand the area to more than 5.000 ha last year. The trials were accompanied by scientific examinations, e.g. testing different HOSF varieties and search for best regions. A special quality management has been introduced to ensure a certain minimum content of oleic acid (< 80 %). An extraordinary success was the production of a very high-oleic sunflower oil with an oleic acid content exceeding 90 % in considerable amounts (appr. 500 t of oil from harvest 1999). It is planned to further develop this speciality, which exhibits outstanding HO-properties, a tailor-made product for multi-step chemical syntheses and high performance applications. Of course also higher production costs for 90 HOSO arise: cultivation and processing are demanding an extended QM and therefore have to be charged.


    Table: Results of German HOSO Pilot Production in 1999


    Chart: HOSF Cultivation in Germany

    Results of the Pilot Project

  • Production of 80/90+ is large scale feasible
  • Appr. 10% less oil yield
  • Higher cultivation risk compared to conv. SF
  • For 90+ an extended QMhas to be set up!
  • In contrast to other countries, where HOSO are used in food applications, the oil obtained in Germany was preserved by contract cultivation to non food applications: a major part is processed by Henkel KgaA to oleochemicals, the ultra-high HOSO by the Dr. Frische GmbH, Alzenau.

    Like in France, the cultivation of HOSF is supported by the governmental and agricultural organisations. Due to non-sufficient availability in adequate quality in former years, many potential HOSO applications have not been developed or at least marketed yet. The German Ministry of Agriculture is therefore sponsoring a campaign for industries: free samples are available for testing for potential processers or users (contact the author). As the HOSO production rises, industries now can go for new food and non food products.

    In chemistry, oleic acid is an industrial bulk product: in German oleochemistry the annual consumption of natural oils and fats is about one million tons, containing more than 200.000 t of oleic acid in absolute weight. But only a small part - approx. 20 % - is used in application, where a dominating high content of oleic acid is desired (in most of these applications tallow oleine then is used as oleic acid resource). About 15.000 to 20.000 t of HOSO are actually used for oleochemicals in Europe - far below its supposed maximum potential.

    Starting from oleic resources (mainly tallow or palm) a highly branched tree of derivatives is manufactured via key intermediates oleic acid, methyl oleate and oley alcohol. Products like TMP-Trioleate, Ethylhexyloleate, Glycerolmonooleate, Decyloleate or Oleyloleate are well known oleochemicals. These and others can be found as parts of formulation in many hundreds of differents products in all kinds of product lines. Up to now, only a few high-oleic intermediates from HOSF are to be found in product brochures / prospects of oleochemistry, but if customers are demanding a certain level of oleic acid, they will more and more be served with HOSO derivatives on request / demand - the big players in oleochemistry all started activities.