Epoxides have been produced from domestic vegetable oils in a pilot project at the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes CBP in Leuna.
Epoxides are highly reactive organic compounds comprised of a triple ring with two carbon atoms and one oxygen atom. Among other things, the chemicals industry uses them for the production of lubricants for vehicles and engines, as well as surfactants and emulsifiers for detergents and cleansers.
Until now, epoxides have been based primarily on source materials procured from petroleum.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB have engineered a chemical-enzymatic process that now enables vegetable oil-based production, at lower temperatures and under more environmentally-friendly conditions.
The Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes CBP in Leuna has made this technology ready for industrial application.
Starting October 2012, the findings obtained in the laboratory will be scaled up to an even larger volume. Quantities of up to 100 liters will be possible at the new center. That corresponds to a 70 kilogram-batch of epoxides.
In the laboratory this reaction yielded batches only in the grams range. The 14 partners in the "Integrated BioProduction" project will be working until April 2014 on engineering a process for procuring epoxides, made from domestic vegetable oils, for industry use.
The foods that are suitable for epoxides production include, for example, the oils of mustard, elder seed, crambe (Abyssinian cabbage) and dragonhead.
To some extent, these oils emerge from food production as by-products, but are not themselves used as food.
The epoxide is procured in Leuna from fluid oils, or fatty acids as well, with the aid of chemical-enzymatic epoxidation. In contrast to the established, pure chemical variety, the enzyme lipase here catalyzes peracid, the epoxidation medium.
The main benefits are that the enzyme is easier and more efficient to handle. In comparison to many other chemical reactions, they operate at moderate temperatures, at neutral pH values and under normal pressure.
At the same time, the enzymes conduct the epoxidation only on the designated sites in the molecule, and without side reactions.
The project is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection BMELV.