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Chemical and physical refining

The complete refining process comprises a series of discrete processing steps. In industrial practice, there are two major alternative processing methods know as ''chemical'' and ''physical'' refining. In the chemical refining, free fatty acids, most of the phosphatides and other impurities are removed during the neutralization with an alkaline solution (e.g. NaOH). A separate degumming step is therefore mostly not included. In the physical refining, the free fatty acids are removed by distillation . An additional (acid-) degumming step is necessary in this mode to reduce the phosphatide level sufficiently low.

The pyysical refining process can offer important advantages to the refiner such as higher oil yield, reduction of the use of chemicals (phosphoric acid, sulphuric acid, caustic soda ...) reduction in water use and effluent of 75% and 90%, respectively and last but not least a considerable reduction of the environmental impact. this last advantage has become very important due to the increasingly stringent limits on the quality and quantity of wastewater discharged from the refineries. On the other side, physical refining is a quite delicate process that is not applicable to all crude oils.

The final choice between chemical and physical refining will depend on a number of factors such as the quality and the acidity of the crude oil, possibilities to get rid of the soapstock and the local environmental legislation.
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