Did you know that palm oil is one of Nature’s most versatile crops and has a myriad of uses? You’re probably most familiar with it as cooking oil and as margarine and shortening – particularly popular in the baked goods industry. It can also be made into an environment-friendly biofuel.
But are you aware it’s also present in hundreds of daily items many of which can be found in every household such as soap, laundry detergent and cosmetics. This is thanks to the fact that palm oil can be used to produce oleochemicals, bio based chemical compounds made from plant oils or animal fats.
These oils and fats have been used for thousands of years in everyday life. Ancient Egyptians combined them with alkaline substances to create a soap-like material.
In modern times, oleochemicals are regarded as analogous to petrochemicals – meaning they can be used in the same way. Given increasing concerns about the role of fossil-fuel based petrochemicals due to climate change, choosing oleochemicals to replace petrochemicals in products like household cleaners and personal care products may be a better choice.
Palm-derived oleochemicals: a renewable and sustainable alternative
As consumers increasingly become more eco-aware and better educated about health and safety, a growing number are looking out for safer, renewable, and natural ingredients in the products they use, especially those they apply on their skin and hair.
“Consumers do see plant-based products (including oleochemicals) as more green and natural,” according to Madeline Tan, CEO of Sinarmas Oleochemical.
This has been fuelled by growing controversies over the presence of toxins and carcinogens such as 1,4-dioxane in personal care products made with petrochemicals. There are also concerns that petrochemicals can mimic the effects of oestrogen causing the body to experience hormonal imbalances.
Meanwhile, health concerns like mad cow disease have also affected the popularity of using animal fats such as tallow (beef fat) for oleochemicals.
Then there’re the environmental benefits.
The oil and gas industry produces huge amounts of carbon emissions. In contrast, oleochemicals derived from responsibly produced palm oil will have a smaller carbon footprint. At Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) we ensure that our oleochemicals are sustainably derived and our oleochemical plant in Medan is RSPO-certified.
Plant-based oleochemicals are often biodegradable, an important quality as the world continues to grapple with the huge amounts of waste generated by a growing global population that ends up polluting water or land.
By virtue of being bio-based, oleochemicals are renewable and offer us an alternative as petrol-based products become too costly, economically and environmentally. And as palm oil is the most efficient plant-oil producing crop in the world requiring the least land to produce a ton per hectare compared to other crops, it is a sustainable choice.
Asia-Pacific is the fastest-growing market for palm oleochemicals due to the ready availability of feedstock (palm oil) and with growing research into new uses of oleochemicals backed up by responsible palm production, there’s every reason to expect this demand to grow here and around the world.