Folks travelling through the pastoral countryside of Decatur County, Georgia in the southeastern United States these days may find themselves treated to a gorgeous, springtime spectacle of acre upon acre of golden Canola flowers painting the landscape.
The flowers, so representative of Earth’s natural cycle and human ingenuity, bring great hope to the challenge of using plant-sourced polymers to make biodegradable and compostable plastics.
A Brief History of Canola
Canola has an unusual history in the agricultural world. Though MHG is proud of the fact that their renewable Canola seed is non-GMO (GMO stands for “genetically modified organisms”), Canola was originally bred by Canadian scientists Keith Downey and Baldur R. Stefansson as a modified, low acid, and non-toxic variant of the rapeseed plant.
In fact, the word Canola is a simple acronym for “Canada Oil – Low Acid.”
Canola, often sold as a low-fat cooking oil, is not only consumable by humans and livestock, but offers a range of other applications. Beyond its healthful properties as food, Canola can be used to manufacture biodiesel fuel, and as feedstock for the microorganisms that make biodegradable plastic.
MHG’s Canola Promise
MHG’s May 2015 Canola harvest has the potential to yield 650 pounds of oil per acre. With thousands of acres in bloom, the company could generate millions of pounds of oil from the seed.
MHG’s oil production process is quite simple. After the flowers bloom and fade, the Canola plants will produce seed pods. The seeds will be harvested with combines, then transported to MHG’s nearby AgroCrush facility.
Next the seeds will be pre-cleaned using a toxin-free process, dried, and stored in grain silos at MHG to await transfer to the adjacent crushing facility. Prior to crushing, the seed will be cleaned again, and then cold-pressed to extract the oil.
The remainder of the seed, called “cake,” will be repurposed as soil fertilizer and livestock feed. A portion of MHG’s seed harvest will be held back for replanting in the fall. Some of the food grade oil will be resold as a consumer quality food product.
Most of the oil, however, will be used to feed the microorganisms that produce PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates), MHG’s signature Biopolymer based on NodaxTM. Canola oil supplies the organisms with energy and provides a fermentation environment in which the creatures thrive.
Healthy Agriculture Makes Healthy Bioplastic
In addition to the non-GMO factor, MHG’s Canola oil production methods add multiple bio-friendly values to the company’s PHA biopolymers:
- Because the seed is locally sourced, its harvest and transport dramatically lowers its carbon impact.
- Because the oil is produced using a non-solvent, cold-press process, MHG’s PHA remains healthful, and leaves behind no toxic footprint.
- Because Canola is a soil enhancer, the detritus of the harvest can be safely plowed under to enrich the soil for future plantings.
- Because Canola is a winter/spring rotation crop, farmers can reap the economic benefit of replanting food and commodity crops during the summer season, including peanuts, soy, corn, and cotton in the U.S. southern regions, and wheat in the Midwestern plains.
- Because Canola is an early-spring flowering plant, it supports bee pollination and extends the seasonal habitat timeframe for birds and other wildlife.
All of these factors, combined with PHA’s remarkable quality as a UV resistant, 100% biodegradable plastic, make the product a truly eco-compatible feedstock alternative to petrochemicals.
PHA also can be blended with other biopolymers, like PLA, to create various strength and longevity characteristics, a feature that dramatically expands its potential for full market integration.
Article and images reposted with permission, courtesy of MHG.