Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: May 11, 2005
Publication Date: June 19, 2005
Citation: Holser, R.A. 2005. Synthesis of surfactants from vegetable oil feedstocks. In: Erhan, S.Z., editor. Industrial Uses of Vegetable Oils. Chapter 10. Champaign, IL: AOCS Press. p. 170-178.
Triglycerides obtained from domestic oilseed crops such as soybean represent a renewable source of medium chain length fatty acids (FA) that are suitable for the preparation of surfactants and related products. These compounds find numerous industrial applications as detergents, dispersants, emulsifiers, softeners, and wetting agents. The hydrolysis of vegetable oil yields FA and glycerol. The FA provide the chemical structures that are the building blocks of surfactants. A FA combines an alkyl structure that imparts hydrophobic properties with a carbonyl or other solubilizing structure that imparts hydrophilic properties. Both attributes are essential to surfactant performance. The length of the alkyl chain determines the hydrophobic character while the solubilizing group determines the hydrophilic character, e.g., anionic, cationic, or non-ionic. The presence and location of substitutent groups further influence surfactant properties and performance in a particular application. For example, the tropical oilseeds - coconut and palm kernel - are rich sources of lauric and myristic acids which are used in the production of detergents, whereas the derivatives of longer chain FA perform better as dispersants or emulsifiers. Additionally, initiatives to promote the development of biobased products that can replace products currently derived from petroleum sources have been implemented by the U.S. government and the European Union over the past several years. In the U.S., the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000 and executive order 13134, "Developing and promoting bio-based products and bio-energy," have established the goal to significantly increase the use of agricultural materials as a source for the production of consumer goods, industrial chemicals, lubricants, and alternative fuels. Historically, agricultural materials were used in this capacity prior to the development of petroleum as a raw material for the chemical industry. The shift from agriculture to petroleum as the source of industrial raw materials occurred due to the availability of inexpensive petrochemicals. A return to agricultural sources may be expected as petroleum prices increase.