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Wondering about a source of vegetable oil for my goblins. Something that produces nuts, perhaps? An underground nut-bush? Or something that produces a lot of seeds, the same way dandelions do? Or could we get a plant which produces fat/oil, and the whole crop could be crushed for it (like fatty turnips)? It doesn't matter if the plant is useful for anything besides the oil.

The important part is the production of oil. While the plant is underground, there are magic crystals that give off sun-like light down there (to keep things simple).

Is an oil-heavy plant, an oily turnip, possible? What sort of characteristics might such a plant have?

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi Johnny. I tweaked your question's title a little to emphasize that you are asking about vegetable oil, not e.g. petroleum products (which form over vastly different time scales and in very different circumstances). Feel free to Edit further. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Dec 22 '17 at 7:47
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's too broad. There are many plants used for edible fats. Almost all could be tweaked by genetic manipulation to produce even more. Without further restrictions, we could use a book about vegetable oils for a start. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 22 '17 at 8:16
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Hadn't thought of that. Thanks for clarifying it. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Dec 22 '17 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ I think you should expand the question and explain what for you need the oil and if you are looking to the best "place taken/oil given" ratio. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Dec 22 '17 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ If all you're asking is "what plants have high oil yields?" this question is about agriculture not worldbuilding. Note that one of the answers links you to a list of vegatable oils. It's a good idea to do basic research before asking a question. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Dec 22 '17 at 13:11
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Try the Oil Palm

Most people have heard of palm oil for good reason. It has a high oil yield for plants. It is the vegetable oil with the highest annual commercial production.

For each hectare of oil palm, which is harvested year-round, the annual production averages 20 tonnes[citation needed] of fruit yielding 4,000 kg of palm oil and 750 kg[citation needed] of seed kernels yielding 500 kg of high-quality palm kernel oil, as well as 600 kg of kernel meal. Kernel meal is processed for use as livestock feed.

If you are from the US, Burma, or Liberia the annual yield is about -- 3,568 pounds/acre plus 446 pounds/acre for the higher quality palm kernel oil.

It has been tested as a replacement for diesel, and works well in most ways. Current production techniques are not as green friendly as the could or should be for a major fuel source.


In theory, algae biofuel should be best of all.

Algae cost more per unit mass than other second-generation biofuel crops due to high capital and operating costs, but are claimed to yield between 10 and 100 times more fuel per unit area.

and

The United States Department of Energy estimates that if algae fuel replaced all the petroleum fuel in the United States, it would require 15,000 square miles (39,000 km2), which is only 0.42% of the U.S. map,[11] or about half of the land area of Maine. This is less than ​1⁄7 the area of corn harvested in the United States in 2000.

In practice, after some promising initial research, the costs have not fallen as originally hoped, and has fallen into disfavor in the bio-fuels community. Short-term gains/losses often being more important than long-term potential in the real world of impatient investors.

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    $\begingroup$ So some kind of algae that propagates in water sources, probably near the crystals? That could be interesting. Astronauts were also considering eating algae, but I'm not sure if it's oil would taste very good (not even sure if they're the same kind of algae). $\endgroup$ – Johnny Dec 22 '17 at 22:19
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C. langsdorffii is known as diesel tree.

C. langsdorffii is a medium-sized tree usually reaching 12 m (39 ft) in height, with white flowers and small, oily fruits. The wood is light due to its porosity, and it is honeycombed with capillaries filled with oil. Tapping the tree involves cutting a well into which the oil seeps and where it can be easily collected. Despite its vigorous production of oil, the tree does not grow well outside of the tropics.

The diesel tree can be tapped every six months for more than 20 l (5.3 US gal) of fuel, and it will continue producing for around 70 years. One acre with around 100 mature (15-20+ years old) trees would produce up to 25 barrels of diesel per year which could sustain the fuel needs of small farms, about 40 l (11 US gal) per tree per year

I am assuming that you want this oil for lighting or heating, in which case it is still fine.

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    $\begingroup$ I... I might steal this for another project. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Dec 22 '17 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ ..those plants are awesome in so many levels. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Dec 22 '17 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ Awesome example. Someone chipped in that palm oil makes good diesel, too, and is great for cooking with a high yield. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Dec 22 '17 at 22:15
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To have a plant with realistic characteristics, I would think about two things: how it produces the oil and why it does so in the first place.

Without going deep into chemistry, let's just state that plants need a lot of energy for oil synthesis. Most oil-industry crops that come to my mind are tropical or subtropical ones - soya, coconut and oil palms, peanuts, even that diesel tree. In more temperate climates, it is not very "economic" for plants to produce much oil. So the plant needs a potent source of energy, mainly light.

In a fantasy setting, the source can be magic. Magic gives you complete creative freedom and you can create any plants you want. But crystals that can support the production of oil would be an amazing magic source and goblins with potent magic in possession are a problem on its own. Also not very science based.

If your goblins live deep underground, then I would create a volcano nearby. A magma river can create an unlimited supply of heat and light for your plants. It also solves the why question. There would be volcanic ash and flying hot cinders from time to time. The plants could develop an oily surface layer to protect themselves. Their oil-covered leaves would then be harvested.

If your goblins live close to the ground, then surface plants are an option, too, even if the goblins themselves live down below. In arid climates, trees can have roots as long as 50 meters. Extremely long lived trees could make energy supplies by synthesizing oil deep underground in their root system. These roots would then be harvested. (Depending on the size of the forest and your goblin culture, there could be a risk of depleting the oil supply, though.)

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    $\begingroup$ These are useful side notes, but Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum. It is Q&A site. It means that if you have something to add that does not answer the question as asked, and is not a comment to make question itself better - do not post it. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 22 '17 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ While written in a conversational style, this actually provides 3 different answers, so I don't know what the other reviewers are complaining about. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Dec 22 '17 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Azuaron where exactly do you see 3 characteristics of oil-giving plants? All I see here is characteristic for plants' environment, when question asks about plants themselves. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 22 '17 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ Rephrased to be (hopefully) more Q&A. I am new to this community, so I still have to learn its standards. $\endgroup$ – Martin Grey Dec 22 '17 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the answer, Martin. It gave me a lot to think about. Your original post was a little long and chatty, but I didn't consider it a bad answer. Waxy plants that grow near magma springs could be very interesting. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Dec 22 '17 at 22:16
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There is a probably a lot of ways to make a magical hybrid plant that gives off enough oil for your goblins, but if you intend for it to be as realistic as possible, it seems peanut oil might be a good way to start. At least it seems plausible for me. That said, I guess it depends on the climate of your Goblins habitat. You might want to first find a plant that suit your climate, then make up a reason for it to produce more oil than usual or perhaps a way for the Goblins to have enhanced it in some way/found ways to extract it easier than usual.

For a list of plants that produce oil, I would go here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_vegetable_oils

I hope this helps you.

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I'd suggest sunflower oil. Sunflowers are easy to grow and have a lot of seeds. There are varieties that produce multiple flowerheads on a single stem, some that have larger heads, and others are bred for shorter stems, so you don't have to worry about them needing a high room underground.

Of course, if you have magic crystals, you can just as well have the knowledge to bred a variety of plants to have all the traits you want. You can grow sunflowers as annual plants or as perennial plants. The perennials are cheaper to grow because you don't have to sow them every year (seeds and work are costs), but in case the soil gets infected it's easier to just plant annuals and disinfect the soil between cycles.

In case the goblins use the oil for raw food or biodiesel, sunflower is an excellent choice, but if they want to burn it in torches or to fry potatoes in it, it's not such a good idea. Sunflower seed oil has a lower smoke point when unrefined, compared to palm oil, for example. Also it needs to be stored at lower temperature than palm oil to avoid oxidation.

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Assuming there were some sort of rampant fungus or insect, a plant could feasibly produce a protective oily sap exuded from the skin and from the leaves as a protective barrier. Plants already do this in nature, but sap is most certainly not vegetable oil.

So the question is where it can come about the nutrients to produce the vegetable oil. Corn can produce a small amount of oil by producing sugar and breaking down sugar into fat. The sugar of course comes from the sun's rays, so if the plant isn't in some underground cavern, this is enough. The goblins could crush up the plant and separate the pulp and water from the oil by throwing the pulpy plant mass into a bin of water, whereby the oil would then float to the top.

If the sun doesn't hit the plant, then there may not even been a need for the plant to grow out of the earth in the first place and therefore there would be no need for a protective film to protect against insects (the way plants protect themselves underground is through a tough skin like potatoes).

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  • $\begingroup$ Hmm... this makes me wonder if you could have a sap industry with these plants. Probably not, as even large trees take a long time to produce useful quantities of sap or rubber. It's probably easier to grow a bunch of them and crush them. I wonder if they could add something to the oil to make it waxy, and then you put it through some process to remove the wax-like quality. Thank you for the answer. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Dec 22 '17 at 9:23
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Fire fungus! Yep, I made it up. But here is the rationale.

First: realize there are plants that want to burn. They are super flammable on purpose.

http://wildfiretoday.com/2009/07/09/have-some-plants-evolved-to-promote-fire/

Many plants that live in places prone to fire are highly flammable — more flammable than plants that live elsewhere. This has led some to speculate that these plants have actually evolved to cause fires: that they “want” fire, and have evolved features that make it more likely that a spark will become a flame, and a flame will become a fire. I call this the torch-me hypothesis.

The argument goes like this. Many plants depend on fire for their propagation. Indeed, without fire, these plants disappear. If, for example, longleaf pine forests do not burn regularly, the pines will be replaced by water oaks and other species. So — runs the argument — fires are desirable because they kill the competition. Plants that enhance fires may thus have an evolutionary advantage: they murder the competition while creating the right circumstances for their own seeds to sprout.

The fire fungus is such an organism. It wants to burn. The burning fire fungus explodes and the fire resistant spores blow on the winds produced by the flame. In its underground environment, the fire kills things and depletes local oxygen so other things die. Food for the fungus.

What would it accumulate?. Bacteria and some yeast can synthesize long chain alkanes: basically petroleum. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25545362 The fire fungus might do this, accumulating the equivalent of motor oil or kerosene in its fruiting bodies. Or maybe there are petrochemicals naturally leaching up thru the soil - like a tar seep - and the fungal mycelia gather and concentrate these. Fungi can oxidize alkanes and petrochemicals for energy also.

Fire fungus seems like a good underground organism. They would grow in the dark producing a large field ready to fiercely burn. If you are going to harvest them, you had better not light your work area with torches...

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Ricinus

It's produce a lot of oil and come with a few bonus:

  1. Can be easily farmed.
  2. Can be used to produce Biodisel
  3. His "nuts" (green capsules) "explodes" (like a small firework) to spread it's seeds when it's mature and hot enough.
  4. Not much time ago it was used as medicine (in small doses, large doses are fatal) and to punish kids (it's simple tastes horrible, believe me)
  5. Kids use it as ammo to slings (lot's of fun until it hits someone eye, again it was some decades ago, serious its shells can be very hard).
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