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The Future of Palm Oil in Oleochemicals S Appalasami and R J de Vries* INTRODUCTION Historically the chemical industry has used coal, minerals, and more recently, petro: leum asits basicraw materials. Whilst the use of oils and fats as chemical raw mate- rials has hitherto been minimal as com- pared with petroleum feedstocks, oils and fats, which are of vegetable, marine and animal origin are renewable, whereas coal, mineralsand petroleum arebeing depleted, and are limited in their availability By 2000, the world production of palm oil is expected to exceed 22 million tonnes or 21% of the total production of oils and fats, About 80% of the world’s production of palm oif will come from ASEAN, a region which holds tremendous potential for growth for oleochemicals. ‘Though relatively new to the indus. trial scene, palm and palm kernel oils are being increasingly used, not only for edible purposes, but also for the production of oleochemicals. *Acidehem (3M) Bhd. 18 Tallow and coconut oil have long been the traditional raw materialsfor the world’s annual requirement of oleochemicals esti- mated at 4,5 million tonnes. But palm and palm kernel oils are now being used as replacements for tallow and coconut oil respectively This paper discusses the position of palm and palm kernel oils in relation to other oils and fats, and in particular their use as economical raw materials for the production of oleochemieals. The paper also discusses the world demand for ‘green’ products; the role of Malaysia as an important raw material base: ASEAN as a growing oleochemical centre; and applications for oleochemicals with reference to the use of palm and palm. kernel oils in particular. WHAT ARE OLEOCHEMICALS 7 ‘The word ‘oleochemicals' denotes chemi- cals derived from natural oils and fats as opposed to chemicals derived from petro- chemical feedstocks such as ethylene, propylene and paraffins. Oleochemicals can be divided into two groups of products, ie. basic oleochemicals and oleochemical derivatives, Basic oleochemicals are produced by splitting and processing oils and fats, and include fatty acids, methyl esters, fatty al- cohols, fatty amines and glycerine. Prod- uctsderived from these oleochemicals (oleo: chemical derivatives) include soaps, fatty amides, quaternary ammonium com- pounds, amine oxides, fatty aleohol etho- xylates, etc. ‘THE DEVELOPMENT OF ‘THE OLEOCHEMICAL INDUSTRY Oleochemicals can be traced back more than 2000 years, to the time when the Celtic and Germanic tribes used a concoc- tion of grease and wood ash to stiffen their long beards and hair. ‘The Phoenicians made crude soap by heating goat fat with ashes from their cooking fires. However, soap makingas an industry emerged in the late 18th century, and was based on the research of Scheele and Chevreul, the founders of oleochemis- try. They identified the structure of fats as glycerine esterified with a variety of fatty acids. Chevreul isolated stearic acid and oleic acid, while E.Frémy discovered palmitic acid. The splitting of fats under atmospheric pressure in the presence of catalysts was discovered by Twitchell (1862-1929). Split- ting under pressure in autoclaves was started around 1905-1910. Gay-Lussac obtained a patent in 1825 for the separation of fatty acids by distilla- tion, and in 1870 the first patent was is- sued in the United States for the recovery of glycerol by distillation. In 1882, Ar- mandy produced glycerol by vacuum distil- lation. Hydrogenation of liquid fats was dis- covered in 1901 by WNormann, who hard- ened whale oils by treating them with 19 ‘The Future of Palm Oil in Oleochemicals hydrogen in the presence of a nickel eata- lyst. In 1903, L Bouveault and C Blane dis- covered the catalytic conversion of fatty acid esters into fatty alcohols. The indus: trial manufacture of fatty alcohols via the high pressure hydrogenation route was started by W Schrauth and H Bertsch, both working for Henkel, in 1931 Fatty nitrogen compoundssuch as fatty amines and their derivatives were intro- duced in 1940. RAW MATERIALS FOR SURFACTANTS ‘The main raw materials from which the organiccomponent of surfactant chemicals is obtained are: * Petroleum hydrocarbons + Oils and fats from natural sources. + By products and co-products of the pulp and paper industry. Petroleum Hydrocarbons Petroleum hydrocarbons provide both linear and cyclic chemical intermediates to the manufacturers of surfactants. These key intermediates, such as ethylene and propylene oxides, alpha olefins, benzyl halides and surfactant alcohols are de- rived from petrochemical raw materials ~ ethylene, propylene, benzene and normal paraffins, They are then used in the manufacture of alkylamines, amine alkox- ylates and benzyl quaternaries. ‘The price andavailability of petroleum, and thus of the hydrocarbon intermedi ates, is basically determined by the do- mand for, and supply of, energy. Around 95% of crude oil goes into energy applica- tions, 4% into petrochemicals, and the bal- ance is used for lubricants (Rapheal, 1986) ‘The specific products where petroleum feedstocks compete with natural oils and fats as raw materials are glycerine, deter: gent-range aleohols, shortchain linearfatty acids and fatty amines. However, about two-thirds of the world production of these chemicals comes from natural oils and fats: (Haupt et al, 1984), Palm Oit Developments 14 Natural versus Synthetic Raw Materials ‘The main advantages that natural raw materials have over synthetic are;- Natural raw materials are inter- changeable. There is a wide selection of natural raw materials from which one can choose on the basis of price and availabil- ity. No parallel exists in the petrochemical industry. * Natural raw materials are replenish- able since they can be grown. Thus their availability is guaranteed. Synthetic raw materials are obtained from petroleum sources which are being depleted and are not replenishable. * Some natural raw materials are by- products, eg. natural glycerine, which adds a credit to the price of the basic raw material such as fatty acid or methyl ester. Inconsequence, natural glycerine is sold at adiscount to synthetic glycerine and natu- ral fatty acids are priced lower than syn- thetic fatty acids. Natural Olls and Fats The oils and fats used as feedstocks for oleochemicals are derived from vegetable, animal and marine sources. Table? shows the historical growth in world production of natural oils and fats. World production of vegetable oils and fats in 1989 was 49.4 million tonnes, which represented an al- most fourfold inerease from 1950. By con- trast, world production of animal oils and fats increased by a factor of only two during the same period. The principal oils and fats which are importantto the oleochemical industry are tallow, palm, soyabean, coconut and palm kernel oils. Table 2 shows the historical growth in world production of these oils and fats. Tallow and coconut oils have been. the predominant raw materials for oleo- chemicals, tallow as a major source of C16- C18 fatty acids and coconut oil for C12-C14 fatty acids. World production of palm oil in 1989 was 10.3 million tonnes, which represents an almost eleven-fold increase since 1950: during the same period, the production of tallow increased by a factor of only three and that of soyabean oil by a factor of seven, while the increase in world produc- tion of palm kernel oil was double that of coconut oil. The growing importance of palm and palm kernel oils in the world’s oils and fats scene is indicated in the projected increase in their production up to the year 2000. PALM AND PALM KERNEL OILS AS RAW MATERIALS The oil palm is one of the world’s most economical oil crops. A tonne of palm fruit, known as fresh fruit bunches (FFB), can yield 200 kg of crude palm oil and 40 kg of palm kernels, which in turn yield about 50 % or 20 kg of palm kernel oil. A hectare of land can yield 20-24 tonnes/year of FFB. Thus a hectare yields four to five tonnes of palm oil and 400 - 500 kg of palm kernel oil annually, Prior to 1980, palm and palm kernel oils were mainly used, after refining and fractionation, for edible purposes. Since the development of the Malaysian ol chemical industry in the early eighties, there has been an increasing use of these oils as raw materials for oleochemical pro- duction. In 1989, Malaysia was responsible for almost 60% of the world production of palm and palm kernel oils (Table 3), while ASEAN (the Association of South-East Asian Nations) produced 75% of the world output of palm and lauric oils (palm kernel and coconut oils) (Table 4). So, itis not sur- prising that ASEAN is becoming a major producer of oleochemicals, ‘The similarity in composition of tallow and palm oil and of coconut oil and palm kernel oil is well known. Initially, there were doubts that palm and palmkernel oils could be used to produce acceptable oleo- chemicals. However, extensive research carried out by the oleochemical producers, has shown that there are few, ifany, appli cations, for which palm-derived oleochemi- cals cannot be used.