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The right fat for the job: Selecting oleochemical fatty acids for industry needs

Posted: Mar 05, 2024 8 minute read SMART 0 Likes

Imagine a secret ingredient that can transform your industry’s products from ordinary to extraordinary. This ingredient isn’t a new high-tech discovery or a rare exotic element – it’s something far more fundamental: fatty acids.

In the ever-evolving world of industrial applications, selecting the appropriate type of fatty acid is like finding the perfect key to unlock immense potential. Whether it’s enhancing the richness of a food product, the efficacy of a pharmaceutical, or the nourishing quality of a cosmetic, the correct fatty acid makes all the difference.

Read on to decode the secrets of oleochemical fatty acids and harness their power to fuel innovation in your industry.

What are oleochemical fatty acids? How are they made?

Fatty acids are the building blocks of oils and fats.

Oleochemical fatty acids refer to fatty acids that are extracted and refined from natural oils and fats and used as raw material for various industrial applications. These natural oils and fats include plant oils like palm, coconut, and soybean, as well as animal fats like tallow.

Producing oleochemical fatty acids begins with triglycerides, the main constituents of natural fats and oils. These triglycerides undergo hydrolysis (also known as splitting), where they are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol, typically in the presence of a catalyst, under high temperature and pressure.

Did you know?

There are four major oleochemicals: fatty acids, fatty alcohols, fatty methyl esters, and soap noodles.

These substances are used in a wide array of applications, including cleaning products, personal care products, lubricants, solvents, and biodiesel. They often represent the ‘chassis’ or structural ingredients in these products, and so make up the bulk of the formulations.

The process of hydrolysis

Following hydrolysis, the resulting mix of fatty acids undergo a purification process. This purification often involves distillation, fractionation, and hydrogenation, common methods used to separate different components based on their boiling points and categorise fatty acids into narrower groups based on their chain length and degree of saturation or unsaturation.

Did you know?

The saturation level of a fatty acid refers to the presence or absence of double bonds in the carbon chain. Saturated fatty acids have no double bonds, monounsaturated fatty acids contain one double bond, and polyunsaturated fatty acids have multiple double bonds.

The different methods of processing and the versatility of the source materials result in a wide array of fatty acids, each with unique properties and applications. This diversity makes them invaluable to various industries, including personal care, food production, pharmaceuticals, and more.

Exploring the properties of oleochemical fatty acids

Oleochemical fatty acids are classified based on their chain length and saturation level. The chain length of these fatty acids determines their physical properties, particularly their melting points and liquidity. Shorter chain fatty acids typically have lower melting points and more liquid states at room temperature. On the other hand, fatty acids with longer chains generally have higher melting points and a more solid state.

The saturation level (the presence or absence of double bonds within the fatty acid) affects the fatty acids’ physical state and chemical reactions. Saturated fatty acids, generally solid at room temperature, and unsaturated fatty acids, often liquid at room temperature, exhibit different oxidation profiles. This difference influences their shelf life and application suitability.

Navigating Fatty Acid

How do these properties benefit the end products?

The varying chain length and saturation level of oleochemical fatty acids affect their melting points, solubility, and reactivity, making them highly adaptable for different industrial uses. In soap and detergent production for example, these fatty acids act as surfactants. They effectively reduce surface tension, which is key for removing dirt and oil, enhancing the cleaning and emulsifying capabilities of these products.

In the food and cosmetics industries, oleochemical fatty acids serve as emulsifiers. They maintain the stability of mixtures by keeping liquids that do not usually mix, like oil and water, combined. This is essential for achieving the desired consistency and texture in products like creams, lotions, and various food items. Their lubricating properties are also valuable in the production of greases and industrial lubricants, contributing to the smooth operation of machinery and extending equipment life.

What do I need to consider when selecting oleochemical fatty acids?

When selecting fatty acids for various applications, it’s crucial to consider their chemical characteristics, such as chain length and degree of saturation, which determine their properties and suitability for specific uses. Factors like melting point, solubility, oxidative stability, and emulsifying capabilities must match the product requirements.

Compliance with regulatory standards is essential, especially in the food, pharmaceutical, and personal care sectors. Factors such as the fatty acid’s compatibility with other ingredients should also support specific application needs, like moisturising or flavouring.

Equally important is the source and sustainability of these fatty acids. Plant-derived options like palm, soybean, or coconut oil are generally preferred for their lower environmental impact compared to conventional petrochemicals. Ensuring suppliers adhere to sustainable practices is also critical, particularly in environmentally-conscious industries.

Palm-derived fatty acids: Bridging various industrial needs

Palm-based fatty acids, extracted from both palm oil and palm kernel oil, have a broad range of industrial applications.

Here are some palm-based fatty acids we offer:

Learn more about how palm-derived fatty acids are used across a variety of industries through the following infographic:

Palm-derived fatty acids

Why choose palm-based oleochemicals?

One of the most compelling reasons to choose palm-derived fatty acids are the advantages of palm oil itself. Palm oil outshines other oil crops in terms of cost-effectiveness, land use efficiency, and productivity. It is notably more affordable than alternatives like soybean oil, making it a budget-friendly option, especially for consumers in low-income countries.

Plus, as perennial crop, palm oil offers steady, year-round production, ensuring stability of supply.

Palm-based oleochemicals, which are derived from natural and renewable resources, can be a compelling alternative to conventional petrochemicals, provided the palm is grown sustainably. Their renewability is key in reducing reliance on finite petroleum sources, and they have a reduced environmental impact due to lower greenhouse gas emissions during production.

In addition, oleochemicals are gaining traction for their functionality and safety, especially in industries like beauty and pharmaceuticals. They break down easily in nature, which helps decrease pollution.  Advances in technology have also made them useful for many different kinds of industrial needs. With the rising demand for green products, oleochemicals are becoming more attractive, matching today’s consumer trends and ecological concerns.

Are palm-based fatty acids sustainable? How do we ensure we source them sustainably?

Palm-based fatty acids can be sustainable, especially when sourced responsibly. Their high yield per hectare makes palm oil a land-efficient option. Through certifications like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the industry demonstrates its commitment to adopting more sustainable practices and reducing deforestation rates. In fact, a 2022 study by Trase Insights found that deforestation linked to palm oil in Indonesia has waned by 82 percent over the past decade, highlighting the effectiveness of these efforts. Continuous improvements in transparent supply chains further contribute to the sustainability of these fatty acids.

Tracing the origins of palm-based oleochemicals can be challenging due to the extensive processing involved in their production. Some derivatives may even go through a double-digit transformation before ending up in the final product. Nonetheless, major producers with vertically integrated supply chains, spanning from plantations to product manufacturing, have the expertise and ability to source certified materials effectively. This integrated approach is key to ensuring both traceability and transparency in sustainable oleochemical production.

Did you know?

As one of the global leading palm oil producers, Golden Agri-Resources’ (GAR’s) strong vertically-integrated sustainable operations ensure a traceable and transparent supply chain. With 98 percent traceability to the plantation, we can guarantee the origin of the raw materials used in our palm-derived products for customers and end-consumers.

To address transparency requirements, RSPO set specific regulations in 2013 for oleochemicals and their derivatives. RSPO-member manufacturers must demonstrate their sustainability commitment by assessing and reporting their use of certified palm oil through an Annual Communication of Progress (ACOP) report. This requirement makes selecting products from RSPO-certified producers a crucial step for those seeking sustainable oleochemical products.

Navigating palm-based oleochemicals regulations

With growing global environmental and ethical awareness, regulations for palm-derived products have intensified, making adherence to strict ecological criteria essential in many industries. As a result, new chemicals, often developed through extensive R&D, must undergo detailed environmental impact assessments before they are sold.

The Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals, commonly referred to as REACh regulation, is one such framework. It mandates that companies looking to import chemicals into EU nations must register their products with the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) and pass relevant consumer safety and environmental criteria. In the US and Canada, new chemical substances are regulated under the New Substances Notification (NSN) regulations and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), where companies must compile existing toxicological data for registration.

With rising demand in the oleochemicals market, industry players must stay updated to skilfully navigate the evolving global regulatory landscape. This is key to demonstrating environmental stewardship and meeting the ethical and safety expectations of consumers.

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Our palm-derived oleochemicals are natural, biodegradable, renewable, and versatile, offering a superior environmental and economic alternative to traditional petrochemicals.

Browse our extensive portfolio of fatty acids, fatty alcohols, glycerines, and soap noodles designed to meet each customer’s needs here.

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