Surfactant sources – Making detergents without using crude oil

Crude oil is pretty amazing stuff.   It’s a mixture of a variety of hydrocarbon molecules and can be used to create any number of organic molecules.  In that sentence the term “organic” refers to organic chemistry as in containing Hydrogen and Carbon atoms.  These hydrocarbon molecules have anywhere from 5 to 40 Carbon atoms and come in all different types of structure.

While crude oil is a fascinating material there are a number of problems with using it.  First, there is a limited supply.  Once we’ve used it all up, there won’t be any left.  And there is already a notion that we have hit the peak level and there is less in the ground than we have used.  Some estimate that by 2040 we will only be able to produce 20% of what we produce now.  That will not be good news for anyone.  That’s why it’s important for industries like the cosmetic industry to start reducing our reliance on petroleum based ingredients.  Eventually, they’ll be gone.

Fortunately, most of the ingredients used in the cosmetic industry can be produced from renewable plant sources.  Pretty much anything that can be made with hydrocarbon chains from C8 to C22 can be made using plant sources.  The way you typically make a surfactant is you start with an oil with a known distribution of straight chain hydrocarbons (like crude oil or a plant oil), chemically react it with the appropriate reactants and make your surfactant.

So, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate can be made by blending petroleum based C12 fatty acids or it can be made using Coconut derived C12 fatty acids.  Cetyl alcohol could be made from petroleum or from Palm oil.

Here is a list of some natural materials that can be made into surfactants

1.  Soybean oil – In fact, here’s a new soybean oil based surfactant.
2.  Coconut oil
3.  Palm oil
4.  Sunflower oil
5.  Meadowfoam Seed oil
6.  Corn oil
7.  Castor oil
8.  Hemp oil
9.  Sugar

Of course there are lots more sources but this is a good start.  Perhaps we’ll expand this post in the future.


2 thoughts on “Surfactant sources – Making detergents without using crude oil

  1. Avatar
    Fayose Olabisi says:

    Hi perry. Im from Nigeria. We have lots of palm oil and coconut oil. Imported surfactants are very expensive. How can I produce surfactants from coconut oil or palm oil. If possible you can recommend books for me to get the information. Thanks a lot.

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