Route open to viable manufacturing of cis fats only

Quebec City, January 11th, 2013

A new catalyst, a chemical, for the «healthy» hardening of fats and vegetable oils has been discovered by Canada`s chemical company SiliCycle. The finding is reported in a scientific paper published recently by the online version of Organic Process Research & Development, a journal published by the American Chemical Society.

Natural oils and fats are always found in the so called «cis» configuration. To increase their shelf life and enable more stable flavour, oils are subjected the a chemical process called partial hydrogenation, a reaction of oils with hydrogen over traditional nickel catalysts.

Unfortunately, the reaction is not selective and oils are converted into a mixture of «cis» and «trans» saturated fats. Trans fats do accumulate in the brain and in the retina and have been linked to heart disease and increased cholesterol levels. The trans fat content of vegetable oils and spreadable margarines, for example, should not exceed two per cent of the total fat content.

Now, Canadian researchers in co-operation with Italy`s researchers of Italy`s Research Council have devised a method by which the hydrogenation reaction can be carried out affording only «healthy» cis fats. An economically viable catalyst using palladium in place of nickel has been sought without success since the 1960s.

«Moreover – says Mr Hugo St-Laurent, president and Ceo of SiliCycle – the process can be run at full efficiency at atmospheric pressure and room temperature, instead than at 20 bar pressure and 200°C temperature of the traditional process».

The article cites a 2007 study commissioned by Canada`s Parliament where new hydrogenation catalysts were urged on the oleochemical industry and a reduction on the amounts of trans fats in foods was demanded.

V. Pandarus, G. Gingras, F. Beland, R. Ciriminna, M. Pagliaro, «Selective hydrogenation of vegetable oils over SiliaCat Pd(0)», Organic Process Research & Development, 2012.

«Trans Fats: The Health Burden », Canada Library of Parliament, PRB 05-21E (21 June 2007).