Comparison of Oleo- vs Petro-Sourcing of Fatty Alcohols via Cradle-to-Gate Life Cycle Assessment

Jignesh Shah, Erdem Arslan, John Cirucci, Julie O’Brien, Dave Moss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Alcohol ethoxylates surfactants are produced via ethoxylation of fatty alcohol (FA) with ethylene oxide. The source of FA could be either palm kernel oil (PKO) or petrochemicals. The study aimed to compare the potential environmental impacts for PKO-derived FA (PKO-FA) and petrochemicals-derived FA (petro-FA). Cradle-to-gate life cycle assessment has been performed for this purpose because it enables understanding of the impacts across the life cycle and impact categories. The results show that petro-FA has overall lower average greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (~2.97 kg CO2e) compared to PKO-FA (~5.27 kg CO2e). (1) The practices in land use change for palm plantations, (2) end-of-life treatment for palm oil mill wastewater effluent and (3) end-of-life treatment for empty fruit bunches are the three determining factors for the environmental impacts of PKO-FA. For petro-FA, n-olefin production, ethylene production and thermal energy production are the main factors. We found the judicious decisions on land use change, effluent treatment and solid waste treatment are key to making PKO-FA environmentally sustainable. The sensitivity results show the broad distribution for PKO-FA due to varying practices in palm cultivation. PKO-FA has higher impacts on average for 12 out of 18 impact categories evaluated. For the base case, when accounted for uncertainty and sensitivity analyses results, the study finds that marine eutrophication, agricultural land occupation, natural land occupation, fossil depletion, particulate matter formation, and water depletion are affected by the sourcing decision. The sourcing of FA involves trade-offs and depends on the specific practices through the PKO life cycle from an environmental impact perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1333-1351
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Surfactants and Detergents
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol ethoxylates
  • Cradle-to-gate analysis
  • Environmental impacts
  • Fatty alcohol
  • Greenhouse gases
  • LCA
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Malaysian palm
  • Oleochemicals
  • Palm kernel oil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films


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