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Rapeseed Oil

Rapeseed is a member of the Brassica family which also includes cabbages and turnips. It was first cultivated some four thousand years ago in India, China and probably Japan and was originally used for lighting and as a lubricant. Today, rapeseed oil is one of the most important vegetable oils for human consumption. The plants grow to a height of 75-175 cm and have distinctive yellow flowers with blue-green leaves. The seeds are small, round and black-red in colour.

Large areas of rapeseed are cultivated in the European Union, Poland and the Czech Republic. Outside Europe the dominant producers are China, India, Canada and Australia.

Rapeseed is planted either in the autumn (winter varieties) or in the spring (summer varieties). The winter varieties have a longer vegetation period and give a better yield, but can only be grown in areas with a mild winter climate. In Europe winter rapeseed is the dominating variety, whereas in Canada only summer rapeseed is grown. The harvest period in the Northern Hemisphere starts in late July for the winter varieties, in late August or early September for the summer varieties.

The EU produces 21.5 million tonnes of rapeseed, imports 2.2 million tonnes and exports about 0.1 million tonnes. The crushing of rapeseeds in the EU accounts for almost 22.8 million tonnes.

The rapeseed contains about 40% oil which is extracted leaving a high protein meal used in compound feed for cattle, pigs and poultry. Once the extracted oil has been refined, the result is a bland, pale oil, uniquely low in saturated fatty acids and with a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids. It is also a good source of Omega 3.

The typical composition of rapeseed oil is (%):

  • Monounsaturates 58
  • Polyunsaturates 33
  • Saturates 9

The low erucic rapeseed variety is widely used for applications such as salad dressing, margarines and sauces. The high erucic variety is used in a range of technical purposes, for example bio-degradable lubricating oil as an alternative to mineral oil based lubricants. The use of rapeseed oil methyl esters as a substitute for diesel fuel takes large volumes of rapeseed oil.

The demand for rapeseed oil is rising since it's use in the biodiesel industry over the last decade.  Of the total crop grown in Europe around 60% is now used as fuel.  Biodiesel is the renewable fuel produced from vegetable oils such as rapeseed oil, and other used cooking oils or animal fats. Under the current Common Agricultural Policy, rapeseed for biodiesel production may be grown on set-aside land which would otherwise be taken out of production.

In specific cases, used vegetable oils can be recycled as feedstock for biodiesel production. This can reduce the loss of used oils in the environment and provides a competitive and CO2 advantageous way of transforming a waste into transport energy whilst meeting the EU's emission reduction target under the Kyoto agreement.

NEODA has introduced a Code of Practice for the collection of used cooking oils in an attempt ensure that this recyclable product is disposed of correctly, legally and in an environmentally friendly manner taking care to avoid any health risk. Further details of this Code of Practice are available from NEODA.


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