Great Opportunities for Vegetable Oils Down Under

Hennie Pieterse, hp dezign & Dr Sanjeev Agarwal, Technochem International Inc

We have the resources

Australia and other countries in the South East Asia Region are rich in vegetable oilseeds and therefore have great potential producing a range of refined vegetable oils.

Palm oil and palm kernel oil is in abundance all over Indonesia and Malaysia.  Australia is a prominent producer of canola oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil and soybean oil.  These sources of oil are available from both chemical and mechanical processing operations and find the following general applications in the food, feed and fuel industries:

  1. Animal Feed – some crude oil and refining byproducts go directly to the animal feed industry as energy source in compound feeds.
  2. Culinary Applications – for human food consumption either as salad dressing or as cooking oil.
  3. Industrial Use – for production of soaps, candles, perfumes, cosmetic products, paints and other industrial and neutraceutical products.
  4. Bio-Fuel – for production of biodiesel, which could be used like conventional diesel in engines.

Only a handful of crude vegetable oil producers add further value to it and normally just supply it  to other Oil Processors or sell it directly into the animal feed industry.  Many of these oil producers will be surprised to learn that it is not that difficult adding more value to crude vegetable oil.  Doing so can greatly expand their profitability.

Oil Refining Plant

Let’s add value to it

We need to refine vegetable oils and animal fats and oils before we can use them for cooking and frying purposes.  Vegetable oils, whether chemically extracted or mechanically pressed, contain impurities we have to deal with through “refining” before we can use it for application possibilities such as the ones outlined above.  Some of these impurities include Moisture, Solids (Insolubles), Gums (Lecithins), Free-Fatty Acids (FFA), Waxes, and Compounds of Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, and other metals.

Other characteristics of oils (such as colour, odour, and taste) are also considered impurities by modern consumers. These impurities are removed in a series of steps such as degumming (to remove gums), neutralizing (to remove FFA), bleaching (to remove color), deodorizing (to remove odor and taste), and de-waxing or winterization (to remove waxes).  Refined Oils are in general referred to as RBD (Refined, Bleached and Deodorized) Oil.  However, specific market or processing requirements may call for additional and very specific processing steps.  Some of the more vital oil processing steps could be described as follows:

Degumming – remove the gums present in crude oil.  Oils contain both hydratable and non-hydratable gums:

    1. Water Degumming.  Water is used to separate gums form the oil.  These gums could be dried and further processed to produce lecithin.
    2. Acid Degumming.  In this case, acids are used to separate the gums from oil.

Neutralizing – remove the FFA’s (Free Fatty Acids) from the oil.

    1. Physical Refining.  the FFA’s are evaporated from the oil under high temperature and vacuum.
    2. Chemical Refining.  This is the more traditional method using caustic soda (NaOH) in a process that removes the FFA’s.  This reaction produces soaps.  These soaps are separated from the oil but trace amounts still stays behind with the oil.  The oil is normally water washed or treated with silica to separate these trace amounts of soaps from the oil.

The Physical Refining Process is preferred because of the following reasons:

    1. it does not produce any soaps
    2. it recovers fatty acids in a more cost-effective way
    3. no chemicals are used

Bleaching – Vegetable oils contain colour pigments.  In many cases there are objections against the colour in some oils and bleaching becomes necessary to soften the colour.

Deodorizing – Vegetable oils also contain odours that may cause objection from the market.  Deodorizing is a steam distillation process that assists in stripping the oil from these unwanted odours.

Several other oil processing steps and techniques exist to address very specific requirements.

Biodiesel – Vegetable oils and animal fats are excellent raw materials for making biodiesel.  We will cover this very important topic in a separate blog.

Many opportunities exist for processing the range of vegetable oils we have available in our region.  We look forward to hearing what you think you can do with opportunities you have.  There are great opportunities for vegetable oils down under.  Please contact us should you like to discuss options in more detail.