Life Cycle Assessment Of The Production Of Edible Oil Emulsions
: Comparing A Novel Process Route Using Aqueously Extracted Oil-Bodies Against Existing Technology

  • Alexandra Hetherington

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


It is estimated that over a third of the diet in the Western world is made up of oils and fats, of which a prominent percentage is in the form of emulsion food products, including milks, creams, yoghurts, margarines, salad dressings, desserts, soups and cheese. Current processing techniques involve the extraction and refining of edible oils using high temperatures and organic solvents, followed by re-encapsulation of the oil, for incorporation into the required emulsion products.The research presented in this PhD thesis was performed within the auspices of the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) funded, Sustainable Emulsion Ingredients through Bio-Innovation (SEIBI) project, which involved collaboration with researchers from the University of Nottingham together with a consortium of industrial partners. SEIBI was initiated to investigate a novel processing route for the production of food-grade rape and sunflowerseed oil emulsions from aqueously extracted oil-bodies. Being less energy and chemical intensive, the novel process offered potential reductions in both greenhouse gas emissions and wider environmental impacts when compared with conventional processing.Using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) techniques, the environmental burdens of the aqueous oil-body extraction process were determined and compared with those of the existing technology route. To facilitate this, the research focussed on six key objectives, designed to both identify the environmental loads of the systems involved and scrutinise the impact of a number of methodological choices for LCA. These included choice of allocation method, normalisation, scaling issues distinct for novel processes and the extent to which the single-issue LCA variant, carbon footprinting could be used as an environmental indicator for the system. LCAs for four separate categories of product systems were developed encompassing seed oils, mayonnaises, aqueously extracted oil-body materials and mayonnaise-like oil-body emulsions. In addition to generating the environmental profiles required to fulfil the research objectives, the analysis of these models enabled the generation of original knowledge through the quantification of impacts for a range of processes that had either not previously been assessed or for which no published data could be found.The novel process was concluded as having clear potential for improved environmental performance over current technology even in its' pre-optimised, although the methodological choices examined were found to have profound effects on these and other results. Oil-body yield from seed was identified as key for optimisation to further maximise the environmental gains, with modest improvements, well within those theoretically possible being required for the novel process to better the environmental credentials of current technology in all key impact areas. The original outputs from this thesis will be of considerable use to developers involved in the continued advancement of the oil-body extraction technology, together with researchers within the edible oils and emulsions sector. In addition, the methodological outputs will help to inform LCA practitioners and developers in the continuing quest to understand the capabilities and limitations of this powerful analytical tool.
Date of Award20 May 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMarcelle McManus (Supervisor) & Martin Ansell (Supervisor)


  • life cycle assessment
  • edible oils
  • novel process
  • oil-bodies
  • scale-up

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