Sulzer advocates splitting palm oil

By | November 10, 2006
A white paper recently published by Peter Fässler of Sulzer Chemtech AG called attention to the ability of crude palm oil to be used in several applications by essentially fractioning, distilling and separating the oil. The paper was printed in the third-quarter issue of Sulzer Corporation's Sulzer Technical Review. Though it was titled, "Too Good to Be Used as Fuel?," Fässler contended that palm oil could indeed be used for biodiesel production, while offering other value-added revenue streams through food and oleochemical products like cosmetics. Technology from Sulzer Chemtech, such as palm oil strippers, would support and enable the separation of crude palm oil into its valuable constituents, he said.

"Palm-oil-based methyl esters must be split into several different products for further processing before the palm oil can be used as biodiesel fuel," Fässler wrote. "The by-products are high-value raw materials and have their main applications in market segments other than fuels." Rising demand for palm oil, combined with fluctuating petroleum prices, have caused variation in palm oil prices this year. By fractioning the crude palm oil, Fässler said fluctuations in fuel prices could be evened out with earnings from other palm-oil fractions.

Components that Fässler said could be harvested from the crude palm oil before distilling it into biodiesel include methylpalmitate, tocotrienol, carotene and phytosterol. "Pure methylpalmitate is a valuable raw product for further processing into higher alcohols," he said. "These alcohols have a wide range of applications as technical oils in cosmetics, food, pharmaceuticals, etc." Tocotrienol, which is found in high concentration in crude palm oil, is a natural source of vitamin E and a potent antioxidant. "Once further purified, it can be used, e.g., as supplements to cattle food, but also as sun blockers in cosmetic products," Fässler wrote. The other two components are carotene and phytosterol. "Phytosterol, a natural cholesterol-lowering agent used in functional food, is purified to a high degree by fractional crystallization," the report said. "All these ingredients accumulate in the heavy residue of the distillation."

In an interview with Derom Bangun, executive chairman of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association, Reuters noted that Malaysia and Indonesia, the world's top palm oil producers, have each decided to set aside 6 million metric tons of palm oil per year as feedstock for the production of biodiesel. This number amounts to nearly 40 percent of the countries' crude palm oil production.
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