What is Tall Oil?

Tall oil, a byproduct of paper manufacturing, is a versatile substance derived from wood's natural resins. It's a renewable resource that's transformed into biofuels, adhesives, and even soap. Its eco-friendly potential is reshaping industries, offering a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. Intrigued by how tall oil is revolutionizing green technology? Join us as we unveil its impactful applications.
Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye

Tall oil is a dark yellow substance derived from the chemical pulping of pine woods. It is composed of a mixture of rosins, fatty acids, sterols, alcohols, and some other non-acid materials. The viscosity of this oily raw material can vary greatly. It can be used in its raw form or processed and used to produce numerous products such as soap, inks, and chemicals.

Chemical pulping usually involves cooking wood chips in a chemical mixture known as liquor. Doing this produces a type of soapy material that consists of rosins and fatty acids, among other things. When this process is complete, the liquor is normally black and must be separated from the pulp. This soapy material can then be mechanically separated from the black liquor. When sulfuric acid and heat are added to the material, it becomes crude tall oil.

Tall oil is used in some kinds of soaps.
Tall oil is used in some kinds of soaps.

Processing this substance can lead to the production of numerous products. There are four that are common. When the crude oil is distilled and the rosin content is above 10 percent, it is often referred to as tall oil rosin. This substance is used to make rubber, inks, and adhesives.

When the crude oil is refined and the rosin content is 10 percent and less the resulting product is known as tall oil fatty acid. This fatty acid is used in paints, cleaners, and linoleum. This type of fatty acid is often considered better than those derived from animal and vegetable oils. One advantage is that end products produced with this substance tend to have improved coloring and viscosity.

Distilled tall oil and tall oil pitch are also produced from the crude product. The distilled product is used for oil field chemicals, fuel additives, and coatings. Pitch is used as a cement emulsifier and to make products such as chemicals and biofuels.

Tall oil also has been marketed by some as an alternative fuel. There are claims that it is biodegradable and produced from renewable resources so it is better for the environment than fossil fuels. Claims have also been made that this substance can be used in conjunction with fossil fuels and biofuels or it can be used to completely replace them in fuel-burning systems.

Some pulping facilities do not sell this product. This is often regarded as an unwisely ignored revenue stream. Removing the material that makes tall oil can positively affect profits and it can also enhance machinery performance.

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Discussion Comments


Tall oil is used for soap making, too. Tall oil products are considered more healthy and environmentally friendly than the typical tallow fatty acids commonly used in soap production, so people who follow organic, all-natural and even vegan lifestyles tend to use products made with tall oil instead of tallow.

I have read about tallow being used to make candles, too, so I can't help but wonder if maybe tall oil would somehow convert nicely into candles.

I guess not that many people in the United States use candles for practical means anymore so much as for religious reasons and emergency lights if the power goes out, but it's still an interesting thought.

If not for the fire hazard, using candles instead of your electric lights occasionally would probably be a good power saver, and using tall oil candles instead of tallow ones would probably give you even more brownie points as far as being environmentally aware goes.


@gimbell - I can't say I know the price per gallon of tall oil off the top of my head. However, the name I can help you with. Tall oil is the resulting lazy speech version of the Swedish word for "pine oil", which is "tallolja". Your theories on why Tall oil is called what it is are more entertaining than the truth, though.

The oil is probably named after a Swedish word because the trees that make the best production amounts of the various substances people pulp them up for grow in Scandinavia. And, what is the best tree for making wood pulp and tall oil? The Scots Pine.


If somebody wanted to buy tall oil, what is the standard tall oil price per, say, gallon? Purely out of curiosity; any time they say something will make a good alternative to fossil-burning fuels, more often than not I find out that the energy spent producing the alternative fuel is itself too high, making it not worth the cost compared to regular old fossil fuel oil.

Why is this called tall oil, anyway? The name is what first snagged my attention; is it because the oil is made from tall, tall trees, or maybe because rumors of it being a replacement for fossil fuels are tall tales?

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    • Tall oil is used in some kinds of soaps.
      By: Africa Studio
      Tall oil is used in some kinds of soaps.