Innovative refining process for valorization of vegetable oil deodorizer distillates


Putting the by-products vegetable oil refinement to productive use

Bio-lubricants from deodorized distillates
© kadmy/
Biolubricants can replace mineral oil-based lubricants
Funding Logo of Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme
This project has received funding from the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 887407.

The food industry often refines vegetable oils. Deodorization is the final step in the refining process. It removes various undesirable substances from the vegetable oil, for example, ingredients that can lend it an off-odor or off-flavor. The process of refining vegetable oil leaves by-products that have hardly been used to date. They contain many valuable bioactive compounds. Recovering these by-products with efficient and cost-effective technologies is a challenge.

Ecofriendly processes for recovering bio-based products

The IRODDI project aims to develop ecofriendly methods of recovering new bio-based products from residual streams of the deodorization process. These new products are expected to provide an alternative to conventional biodiesel production. They include:

  • biocompatible and ecofriendly surfactants that are more soluble in cold water (created by chemically neutralizing free fatty acids with ecofriendly ionic liquids)
  • biodegradable base oils that can be used straightaway to formulate biolubricants (created by enzymatically esterifying free fatty acids with glycerol)
  • sustainable polyols for producing polyurethane (created by chemically co-valorizing base oils produced via the enzymatic esterification of free fatty acids) for the adhesives and cosmetics industries

Biolubricant sourced from deodorized distillate

Lubricants are essential to machining processes. Practically all branches of industry require some type of engine, gear, hydraulic or metalworking lubricating oil. Biolubricants can replace mineral oil-based lubricants to make manufacturing operations more sustainable and ecofriendly. The idea behind the IRODDI project is to put a previously unused raw material, deodorized distillate, to use to make sustainable biolubricants.

The Fraunhofer IVV has set out to develop an enzymatic esterification process to neutralize deodorized distillates that contain large quantities of free fatty acids. Glycerol, a by-product of biodiesel processing, is used for the esterification. The developed lipase-catalyzed reaction makes it possible to manufacture customized products that are perfectly suited to use in the lubricants industry in terms of their tribological and emulsifying properties. The innovative and high-quality esterification product can be used directly without further modification as base medium for formulating biodegradable lubricant systems.

Particularly good results were obtained when using deodorized distillates from sunflower and olive oil refining. The oxidation stability and viscosity of the products made from these distillates are comparable with commercially available lubricants. In the analysis of tribological behavior, they even performed better in some cases.

Since deodorized distillates are a largely unused raw material, they represent a promising alternative to fossil-based materials such as mineral oils and should therefore be researched further. Based on the project results so far, it is advisable to carry out storage tests and check its compatibility with materials such as sealing materials, as well as investigate its corrosive behavior towards various materials.

Project term:

2020 to 2023

Project management/project funding:

EU, Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaken (BBI JU) in the EU Framework Program for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020

Press release about the project results: The IRODDI project successfully proves how an industrial bioeconomy model can also work with products that are not intended for energy use. - Sept.2023 [pdf 0,5 MB]