Fats and Oils Processing

The IRmadillo for Monitoring Fats and Oils Processing

The production of edible oils from seeds is one of the oldest known industrial processes with historical references of olive oil production dating back to ancient Rome. It is not a single process, but a combination of different unit operations and chemistries, with varying conditions and equipment – all depending on the desired end product as well as starting material. The variation in natural feedstocks, and possibly multiple different products on one production line make analysis a challenge – is there a method that will work no matter the type of seed oil or fat, the desired product in the refining & pre-treatment processes?

Taking samples off-line to a lab is one method, but by the time the results are available the process may well have already changed dramatically. Also, some of the processes performed in labs are prone to errors and mistakes, especially labor-intensive techniques such as titration. Simple on-line measurements like temperature probes and flow meters are important for safety reasons, but more advanced methods are needed to allow true, real-time, process optimization. Up to now, reliable versions of these tools have not been available to the industry. All this changes with the introduction of the IRmadillo FTIR Spectrometer.

The Keit IRmadillo has been specifically designed to withstand a wide range of process conditions, can tolerate knocks and scrapes, and can survive caustic cleaning processes with no damage to the probe. It’s ideally suited to monitoring and controlling the refining of fats & oils – improving efficiency and saving the refinery money.


Points of Measurement in
Fats and Oils Processing

Refining processes change from refinery to refinery, with lots of variations based on feedstock, scale of production, desired product and the exact methodology used by the plant. The key processes are shown below in a typical plant design, consisting of a degumming and neutralization step, washing and bleaching/de-odorizing. Recommended installation points for the IRmadillo are:

  • Inlet of the crude or water washed oil
  • Outlet of the degumming and neutralization steps
  • Outlet of the washing step
  • Outlet of the bleaching step


The process requires addition of phosphoric acid as part of the degumming process and then caustic soda (lye) addition to neutralize free fatty acids (FFA). These chemicals are expensive and controlling the addition rate based on real quality measurements (i.e. feedback control) will drive down costs and improve efficiency. Also, adding too much caustic soda/lye will start to degrade the oil itself as well as the FFAs, decreasing yield and producing excess soap.

The separation step spins out the gums and/or soap stock from a centrifugal separator. Some of the advanced separators allow fine control using on-line analytics, and the IRmadillo enables this in practically real time. By checking for residual water, phosphoric acid, soaps, free glycerol, FFAs or fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs) the separator can be controlled to ensure the product is high quality and clean, whilst only discharging the minimum amount of product to waste.

The IRmadillo can easily monitor the following chemicals and properties:

  • Type of seed oil
  • Contamination check
  • Free fatty acids (FFA)
  • Fatty acid methyl esters (FAME)
  • Phosphorus and phospholipids
  • Soaps
  • Glycerol
  • Chlorophyll
  • Color
  • Iodine value (IV)

What Other Steps in Oil Refining can you Monitor?

Continuous contaminant spotting and crude oil classification: not only can the IRmadillo can measure concentrations of various different chemicals and properties, but it can also make qualitative checks on your raw materials to show that what you think you’re introducing to the process is what you’re actually adding. For example, it can spot different types of oil (canola/rapeseed, sunflower, corn, olive, etc.) and tell you if the batch has been contaminated in cases such as a high value crop being bulked out with lower value oils.

Hydrogenation, degree of saturation and iodine value: the IRmadillo can measure the degree of saturation within the oil by counting the double bonds, and in return can report the relevant iodine value. This means it can be used to monitor hydrogenation reactions in real time, and better control the process. It can also measure the output of process to ensure you’re meeting the required specifications for a high value product – for example high oleic oils.

Transesterification: the conversion of one triglyceride into another is a complicated process, but the IRmadillo can differentiate between triglycerides and help you control this process, and monitor the product in real time. Depending on the level of calibration it can either give a simple pass/fail criteria on product or a more detailed breakdown of chemical makeup of the triglyceride.

What about other instruments – Raman, near infrared (NIR), & refractive index monitors?

Raman spectroscopy is similar to the FTIR that drives the IRmadillo’s process monitoring, but it can be very strongly and negatively affected by particles and bubbles in the solution, as well as showing strong fluorescence in many cases.

Near infrared (NIR) technologies provides much less specific information than FTIR – they’re very good in some industries, but not up to the demanding job of fats and oils process monitoring.

Refractive index monitors are cost effective instruments for simple systems, but they cannot cope with complicated mixtures such as those present in fats and oils processing.

Raman, near infrared and refractive index monitors have been around for many years prior to the IRmadillo – put frankly, if they were the right tool wouldn’t you have one already?

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The IRmadillo for
Fats & Oils Processing

There was a lot of work and interest in near infrared (NIR) a few years ago, and unfortunately many people spent a lot of time and money on a technology that was simply never going to work. NIR is a fantastic technique for simple measurements, (for example, water content in solid seeds), but for monitoring complex mixtures of very similar components (such as the oils themselves) it cannot cope. The IRmadillo is based on mid infrared (FTIR), which is a whole different type of light. It was the development of the IRmadillo’s special static optics that allowed FTIR to be taken out of the laboratory and onto the production floor.

Both. The IRmadillo doesn’t mind what your fundamental process is or even plant design. It is calibrated for a given plant design and process, and can even be calibrated to work in multiple different points on the same refinery. It works by observing every chemical that is present in the stream, and outputs the results. So if you have an enzyme-based process, it will look for enzymes, and if you have a traditional chemical process it won’t see any enzymes. Through conversation with the engineering team we will find a suitable place to install the instrument to give the optimum performance for the process steps of interest.

Yes. The IRmadillo does need a suitable calibration, and this can be made on multiple oil types. For example, a calibration designed to measure soaps and FFA can easily be made to work with both canola and sunflower oils as the product. The instrument can be calibrated to look for whatever is important to you, and can run multiple calibrations at once for no additional cost.

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Application Library

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brochure by browsing our application library.

The IRmadillo for
Fats & Oils Processing

If you purchase the IRmadillo for fats and oils processing you will receive:

  • IRmadillo process analyzer
  • Interface and mounting accessories to integrate with your process (following a consultation with your engineering team)
  • IRmadillo controller
  • Calibration services
  • Ongoing technical and recalibration support (as per your warranty or maintenance contract)

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