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Aveda, ARS developing shampoo ingredient from local oil seeds

MORRIS – We're used to seeing “locally grown” advertisements on meats and vegetables.

But Stevens County residents may eventually be able to purchase some locally grown products in the shampoo aisle thanks to research being done in conjunction with scientists at the North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Morris.

For the last several years, researchers at Aveda, a cosmetics manufacturer and distributor, have partnered with scientists at the Soils Lab on a project to develop new technology for the foaming agent in shampoo that uses oils from local seed crops, specifically cuphea.

The first step in the process was figuring out how much oil comes out of each cuphea seed. The second step, which researchers have been working on this year, is to chemically transform the seed into the next intermediate stage on the way to the final shampoo ingredient, said Pat Peterson-Werre, vice president of research and development for Aveda.

“We're going to spend this year refining that process and really figuring out the yields that we can expect,” said Peterson-Werre. “We've had several different growing scenarios now, and this year we think we can pull in a very reasonable yield amount so that we can put together an economic picture.”

While there are still several more steps in the process – developing the final molecule and then seeing whether it works with the rest of the shampoo ingredients – the project could eventually lead to Aveda shampoos made with ingredients from Stevens County.

Many of the ingredients used to make shampoo and other cleansers foam are based on tropical oils – there are very few, if any, local sources for these materials, Peterson-Werre explained.

“Instead of going to very remote places to get starting ingredients and then do all that same work, it makes sense to us to develop a local source for a starting ingredient, which does not exist at this point,” she said.

Although the research is currently focusing on oil from cuphea seeds, Peterson-Werre said the process for refining and transforming the oil could potentially be used on other types of oil seed crops, which would create some flexibility for local growers.

“Good research takes time,” said Peterson-Werre. “It's easy to throw some things together. But if you're really going to change an economy, create new technology and make something worthwhile, it's worth the years we're putting into this.”

This research project, which meshes both public and private research goals, has worked because of the strong relationship between the Barnes-Aastad Association, a non-profit organization designed to support the mission of the Soils Lab and the staff at the Soils Lab, said Peterson-Werre.

“Without those two groups, we wouldn't be anywhere,” said Peterson-Werre. “This collaboration that takes the research along with the local farmers that are willing to take a risk for us and then our ability to move that into an industrial product – those are the three elements that are moving forward together year by year.”

“It's an elegant ecosystem, at the end of the day, if we can do it right,” she said.