The Sirius Effect:
Palm kernel oil forms a major component of modern surfactants. Unfortunately, the sustainability of the source of these oils is problematic-but the solution could be closer than we think, if we’re willing to get a little…dirty.
Palm oil and palm kernel oil are everywhere. They find their way into a vast array of everyday products, from bread to makeup to soap to shampoo to instant noodles. Many people are aware of the problems with palm (kernel) oil: deforestation, human rights abuses, questionable agricultural practices. Many people would like to cut back on their use of palm (kernel) oil. But where would you begin if a product is literally everywhere?
The main reason palm- and palm kernel oil are so popular is because they are chemically ideal: palm oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm, and is composed mostly C16 and C18:1 fatty acids, making it ideal for food additives. Palm kernel oil, as its name suggests, comes from the kernel of the fruit of the oil palm, and contains C12 and C14 fatty acids that are ideal for creating the most commonly used surfactants. For alternatives to be commercially viable, they must be: a) readily produced in quantities similar to that of palm (kernel) oil, b) without incurring too much extra expenses, while c) having the correct chain lengths.
The search for alternatives has already begun, but it is difficult to find a plant source that is so readily cultivated, yields as much as the oil palm, and can be grown in a more sustainable fashion. However, in recent years, circular models for production have captured the imagination of the public and industry alike: one industry’s waste could become another industry’s surfactant.
One promising start is rice waste, which are the unused plant parts from rice cultivation. Most rice waste is currently burned, but extracting fatty acids from it results in a little less waste. The yield of fatty acids is fairly low (for C16, the percentage is approximately 14%), and the useful fatty acids are limited to C16 and C18. This makes the rice waste less ideal for surfactants, but it can still be useful for other industries who want to replace palm oil. The availability of rice waste and its sustainability compensate somewhat for the low yield.
Another starting point could be the paint and leather industries. While most of the wastes in these industries go towards biodiesel and animal feed, there is no reason why the C12/C14/C16 mix of fatty acids that form most of the waste could not be used in the manufacturing of surfactants.
Alternatives to palm oil already exist. They are found in waste streams from other industries. Sirius wants to make it so that people who want to avoid palm oil can actually choose to do so. Sourcing our starting materials from waste products is a double eco-friendly way to provide alternatives; it is a step towards circularity. If you’d like to find out more about this innovation process of Sirius and develop your raw material from a waste stream, call us today to start a cooperation.
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