One of the most important active ingredients of detergents is the sulfate or sulfonate compounds made via the oleum route. A process flow diagram is shown in Figure 9. In most cases, the sulfonation/sulfation is carried out continuously in a reactor where the oleum (a solution of sulfur trioxide in sulfuric acid) is brought into contact with the hydrocarbon or alcohol and a
rapid reaction ensues. The stream is then mixed with water, where the surfactant separates and is then sent to a settler. The spent acid is drawn off and usually forwarded for reprocessing, and the sulfonated/sulfated materials are sent to be neutralized.
This process is normally operated continuously and performs indefinitely without need of periodic cleanout. A stream of water is generally played over pump shafts to pick up leaks as well as to cool the pumps. Wastewater flow from this source is quite modest, but continual.
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