Palm Oil Developments No.37 (Dec 2002) p9-13

Palm-based Surfactants Synergy in Soap Applications


The α-SME is an alternative anionic surfactant to linear alkyl benzene sulphonates (LAS), fatty alcohol sulphates (FAS) and (the now maligned) branched alkyl sulphates (BAS). Historically, LAS and BAS were the workhorse surfactants for many detergent formulations. But BAS has now been banned from use by many countries due to its low biodegradation quality, leaving only LAS as the mainstay for many formulations. In Malaysia, there is an abundance of fatty methyl esters primarily from the oleochemical companies as well as from the manufacturers of vitamin E and carotenes from palm oil. In view of this, there was an incentive to produce α-SME from palm methyl esters. In addition, with the ban on BAS in Malaysia, LAS became the primary surfactant in detergent formulations. The cost of production for LAS is higher compared to BAS and this has enticed the Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia (PORIM), now known as the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), to investigate an alternative anionic surfactant to LAS. Here, α-SME can offer a price advantage, good detergency and tolerance towards water hardness. Soap is a common and traditional surfactant that can be obtained from palm oil. It is cheap and easy to manufacture. It has a particular disadvantage, being sensitive to hard water or to high levels of calcium and magnesium salts in water. In such event, the calcium and magnesium salts of the soap will precipitate out – foaming the scum and waxy cake that clogs drains and pipes. Malaysia is one of the worldís largest producers of soap noodles and it was felt that a positive synergy between α-SME and soap can enhance the use of soap. This study originated from the curiosity if there could be a synergy in detergency performance between α-SME and palm-based soap. The following question was posed: can the performance of soap be enhanced by the addition of α-SME?

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