Algal vs palm oil. Coming soon?

The use of algal oil to partially replace palm oil in home and personal care (HPC) is being planned by some companies. The first major brand which stated such a plan is Unilever. Ironically, the company is a key leader in the RSPO which says it promotes the use of sustainable palm oil (but a few RSPO members have taken this to be insufficient and instead pledge no palm oil usage; and much to the consternation of other RSPO members).

Ecover recently reports plans to produce algal oil in Brazil and then in its own factory in Belgium, for a new laundry liquid for launch in Europe in a few months time. Thus, we have a company in HPC pledging "no palm oil" eventually, starting with 7% replacement [1]. Francophone Europe has faced heavy negative palm oil campaigns and various food producers feature products with "no palm oil." Algal oil technology is still evolving and costing needs to be improved [2], but things can shift with many researchers working on this. An update on costing is needed. So far, it sounds like an early higher cost partial substitute for premium HPC products. Thus, we see Unilever still planning a new production facility in Sumatra for the use of palm kernel oil for oleochemicals in its HPC products. At the same time, in a separate and yet related trend, another key HPC brand, P&G is facing pressure from Greenpeace.

[1] News item: Ecover adopting algae-based laundry liquid to cut palm oil use, The Guardian, Wednesday 2 April 2014,; Ecover, the green cleaning company, will launch the algae-based laundry liquid in Europe later in 2014, as part of its pledge to ultimately replace all palm oil.... “Through our research into palm oil replacements, we discovered that algae are capable of producing one of the purest and cleanest oils available,” said Dirk Develter, Ecover’s Head of Research and Development. “Algal oils have a much smaller ecological footprint than most tropical oils, such as palm oil, making them ideal for home products, where tropical oils are widely used.”... At the start, 7% of the oil ingredients in the laundry liquid will come from algae, Ecover said, with the intention of raising that proportion as more is learned about its use. The first algal oil will be produced in Brazil from sugarcane, which is an efficient feedstock with a relatively low carbon and water footprint..... Ecover said it would be producing algal oils close to its Belgian factory in three years and was examining different feedstocks, including agricultural and forest waste, to identify which was the most sustainable feedstock of those locally available.... Ecover is also researching the use of bacteria to convert organic material into useful chemicals and, in 2013, the company committed to using plastic waste retrieved from the sea to create sustainable and recyclable plastic bottles.... Algae, and seaweed, are being developed as biofuel sources by numerous companies and the US Navy has tested algal fuel in its ships.

[2] Khor Reports at 2012 conference on algal biofuels; I am in Singapore... at the "Biofuel 2012 - alternative aviation fuel in Asia conference and Asean algae biofuel initiative conference."... How does this touch on palm oil? First, a positive. There's a potential use for POME in the cultivation process. Second, a competitive concern: the likes of global giant Unilever says it hopes to replace palm oil in its Dove soap and some other skin care products with algal oils, with a target date 2017... How about the economics of production? ..... Read more here: /khorreports-palmoil/2012/02/conference-algal-biofuels.html 

Algal oil researchers:

SGI, founded by J.Craig Venter; newslink below on his R&D on algae for biofuels: (thanks to a reader for this link!)