A Queen’s University chemistry professor has invented a special solvent that may make cooking oil production more environmentally friendly.
Philip Jessop, Canada Research Chair in Green Chemistry, has created a solvent that – when combined with carbon dioxide – extracts oil from soybeans. Industries currently make cooking oils using hexane, a cheap, flammable solvent that is a neurotoxin and creates smog. The process also involves distillation, which uses large amounts of energy.
“Carbon dioxide is famous for global warming – it’s everybody’s favourite gas to hate these days,” says Professor Jessop, who specializes in green chemistry. “My research group is trying to figure out if we can use it for something useful. I figure we may not be able to recycle all the carbon dioxide out there but we can recycle a bit of it and make it contribute to society in a positive way.”
Jessop’s new method of making oil involves a “switchable” solvent. This solvent is hydrophobic, meaning it mixes with oils and doesn’t like water. But when carbon dioxide is added, the solvent becomes hydrophilic, meaning it mixes with water and doesn’t like to be in oil. So when carbonated water – carbon dioxide and water – is added to a mixture of the solvent and soybeans, the oil is extracted out of the soybeans and collected. When the carbon dioxide is removed, the solvent switches back to its hydrophobic state. (more…)