SUCCESS STORY #1: OLEON
Oleon, founded in 2000, is a company belonging to the Avril group that manufactures oleochemical products by natural chemistry.
Promoting the use of enzymes for process optimisation
“Oleon started in 1835 as a candle manufacturing company, which in the following decades diversified into what it is known as an oleochemical company today. It belongs to the Avril group and has two main business units: one focusing on the production of basic oleochemicals, such as fatty acids, glycerin and specialty alcohols, and the other one focusing on derivatives, e.g. products with a higher degree of transformation, such as specialty esters with specific properties, to meet customers’ demands”, explained Yann Raoul, a specialist in collaborative projects within Oleon and coordinator of INCITE.
Both activities have in common the use of raw materials of natural origin, such as vegetable or animal fats and oils, which provide biodegradable and high-performance products for different markets. Application markets for Oleon’s innovations are divided into two sectors:
- Crop care; Cosmetics; Food & Feed
- Lubricants; Oilfield chemicals; Materials
The company is committed to improving the environmental impact of its products, not only by developing more sustainable processes, such as enzymatic catalysts as in INCITE, but also by working with certified raw material suppliers where applicable (e.g. RSPO certification for palm oil).
What does innovation represent for Oleon?
“For Oleon, innovation represents the development of higher performance products with lower environmental impacts”, so Yann Raoul. “To this end, Oleon focuses on the use of more sustainable ingredients and the development of alternative processes with environmental benefits”. This has been put into practice with the launch of the INCITE project, focusing on enzymatic catalysis for esters production. In addition, through a demo scale project called LIPES, Oleon is implementing the enzymatic hydrolysis of oils and fats to obtain free fatty acids and glycerol, from which functional products can be derived from free fatty acids, e.g. dimer acids. These can also be used to manufacture certain esters.
Why does Oleon participate in the INCITE project?
As Oleon’s commitment to the development of more sustainable technologies, such as enzymatic catalysis, has already been optimised, it is necessary to bring production to a demonstration level. For the time being, samples remain at pilot scale, as the demonstration plant is under construction and is expected to be operational in the course of 2022 in Oelegem, Belgium.
“Thanks to biocatalysis, the energy consumption of the process is optimised, as lower temperature is required, thus, reducing its carbon footprint. Also, less waste is produced, as the enzymes are more specific, so there are fewer co– or by-products to recycle. Finally, the recovery and reuse of the enzymes used during the process will also be pursued”, explained Yann Raoul.
Some key figures that demonstrate Oleon’s commitment to continuous improvement and to developing new processes and products, enabling to meet customers’ needs for specific local demands:
- around 1,000 employees worldwide
- 25% market share of oleochemicals in the European market (+600,000 tons/year)
- 80 people in R&D, spread over different production sites (Europe, USA and Asia)
- 5 production plants
- 5 formulations laboratories
- 3 application laboratories
- 4 pilot plants