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Lipids as renewable resources: current state of chemical and biotechnological conversion and diversification


Oils and fats are the most important renewable raw materials of the chemical industry. They make available fatty acids in such purity that they may be used for chemical conversions and for the synthesis of chemically pure compounds. Oleic acid (1) from “new sunflower,” linoleic acid (2) from soybean, linolenic acid (3) from linseed, erucic acid (4) from rape seed, and ricinoleic acid (5) from castor oil are most important for chemical transformations offering in addition to the carboxy group one or more C-C-double bonds. New plant oils containing fatty acids with new and interesting functionalities such as petroselinic acid (6) from Coriandrum sativum, calendic acid (7) from Calendula officinalis, α-eleostearic acid (8) from tung oil, santalbic acid (9) from Santalum album (Linn.), and vernolic acid (10) from Vernonia galamensis are becoming industrially available. The basic oleochemicals are free fatty acids, methyl esters, fatty alcohols, and fatty amines as well as glycerol as a by-product. Their interesting new industrial applications are the usage as environmentally friendly industrial fluids and lubricants, insulating fluid for electric utilities such as transformers and additive to asphalt. Modern methods of synthetic organic chemistry including enzymatic and microbial transformations were applied extensively to fatty compounds for the selective functionalization of the alkyl chain. Syntheses of long-chain diacids, ω-hydroxy fatty acids, and ω-unsaturated fatty acids as base chemicals derived from vegetable oils were developed. Interesting applications were opened by the epoxidation of C-C-double bonds giving the possibility of photochemically initiated cationic curing and access to polyetherpolyols. Enantiomerically pure fatty acids as part of the chiral pool of nature can be used for the synthesis of nonracemic building blocks.

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U. Bornscheuer thanks the Fonds der Chemischen Industrie (Frankfurt, Germany) for financial support.

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Correspondence to J. O. Metzger or U. Bornscheuer.

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Metzger, J.O., Bornscheuer, U. Lipids as renewable resources: current state of chemical and biotechnological conversion and diversification. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 71, 13–22 (2006).

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  • Lipase
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Erucic Acid
  • Ricinoleic Acid
  • Cocoa Butter Equivalent