The Spanish Patent and Trade Mark Office has recently accepted a patent of the University of Cadiz to produce a new surfactant component using renewable raw materials, which improves the quality of detergents as they are less pollutant. With the title 'Proceso de obtención de sulfonatos de ésteres metílicos insaturados derivados de ácido oleico' (process for obtaining sulphonates from unsaturated methylic esters derivated from oleic acid), the author of the patent is León Cohen Mesonero, head of the Tensioactividad y Energías Alternativas o Renovables research group, of the department of Chemical Engineering, Technology of Food and Environmental technologies of Algeciras High Polytechnic.
Some of the properties of this patent include the low environmental impact of the process, as the resulting product is a derivate of renewable raw materials obtained from olive, palm, sunflower or rapeseed oil, among others. Tensioactives are an essential element in commercial detergents' composition formulas.
Methyl esters of a natural origin have unsaturations in the alkylic chain. In order to be able to saturate a fraction, a later hydrogenation is applied as double bonds are the cause of the bad smell of sulphonates.
However, the invention of the University of Cadiz research group consists of directly sulphonate under 'proper conditions' the methyl ester of an oleic acid without going through the hydrogenation process.
One of the advantages of this new process for obtaining surfactants is that during the trial phase, the aqueous solutions of the obtained product proved to be very homogeneous and not that viscous in concentrations higher than 50% at a room temperature, when most of the anionic surfactants that we know and commercialise have a pasty consistence in concentrations over 30%. This characteristic makes this product easy to handle, transport and use in the formulation of liquid detergents.
Another advantage of this invention is that as the hydrogenation phase is eliminated from the process, the production cost is more economical. Moreover, according to León Cohen, 'it is a more versatile product, as it can also be used as a moistening or dispersing agent of calcic or magnesic salts of hard water'.
The Patent has received the title on the 16-08-2008 while the process is still under study to achieve optimization.