Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS

Vegetable oils and their fatty acid esters as substitutes for organic solvents in industrial processes

The project involved finding substitutes for the organic solvents which are currently used in industrial processes, such as cleaning, coating and degreasing. The suggested alternatives to these organic solvents are fatty acid esters of vegetable oils. The VOFAPro project was set up to investigate these vegetable oils and their fatty acid esters (VOFA) were investigated with respect to commercial and environmental considerations (availability, classification, life cycle etc.) as well as their compatibility with other materials and their cleaning ability. It is hoped that VOFAs will become more attractive to industry as substitutes for volatile organic compounds (VOC) in specific cleaning processes.

The current cleaning technology in use in the different industries was investigated using questionnaires and analysing the results which indicated the problems that occur with the current technology and were used to identify the areas where possible substitution with VOFAs seemed reasonable. One important result of this investigation was the finding that 40 per cent of the 136 cleaning processes described in detail by the questionnaires were manual. Political pressure arising from environmental concerns has resulted in increased interest, amongst large companies in less harmful alternatives to organic solvents. To allow for the definition, classification and modelling of VOFA products, 20 pure esters (including fatty acid esters and lactates) and 15 commercial products were chemically characterized. Estimation of the pure VOFAs was performed using models For the cleaning tests 4 typical test dirts with increasing resistance to cleaning have been defined. The ability of VOFAs to solubilize binders was tested to determine the Hansen Solubility Parameters. A life cycle analysis of two VOFA products and a de-aromatized hydrocarbon product has been performed The assessment of biological degradation, bio-accumulation and toxicity all gave very favourable results for VOFAs. A picture is emerging of VOFAs as powerful cleaning agents which are suitable for many applications.

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Lothar LISSNER
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