Green surfactants on the rise

I’ve learned several new information about the development of new green surfactants from the American Oil Chemists Society (AOCS) meeting, which of course I’ll share here. But first, an announcement from Cognis about their green surfactant alkyl polyglucoside (APG®) caught my attention.

Cognis announced yesterday that it has officially opened its new production facility for its APG® surfactants at its site in Jinshan, China. The company claims to be the world’s largest supplier of the original APG® surfactant, which is made from vegetable oil or starch.

Cognis has two other APG facilities, one in Dusseldorf, Germany and the other in Cincinnati, US. Applications for the surfactant include formulations for bath and shower gels, household cleaners, dish washing and laundry detergents and in agrochemical formulations.

Cognis said it has been producing APGs for 20 years now although the company said it was first developed in 1893 when German chemist Emil Fischer combined fatty alcohols and glucose for the first time.

Unlike the chemically synthesized APG, new surfactants are being developed using biotech processing. A researcher from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) talked at the AOCS meeting about sophorolipids and rhamnolipids, both are glycolipids that can be used to produce bio-surfactants via fermentation process.

Development of sophorolipids are more advanced compared to rhamnolipids. Sophorolipids, according to the USDA, can be produced by fermenting either fats/oils, glycerol, or soy molasses using the fungi Candida bombicola (thanks to Microbiology class for enabling me differentiate fungi species to bacteria haha!).

Dirk Develter of Ecover Belgium talked more about sophorolipids, which Ecover has been developing as biosurfactants for use in cleaning products and cosmetics. Potential applications for sophorolipids are in cleaning and cosmetics as antimicrobial wash active, emulsifier, hydrotrope, and low-high foaming surfactant. Sophorolipids can als o be used as surfactant for pest control, bio-remediation, in fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Ecover said it already has patent on sophorolipid-based biosurfactants for use in household and I&I products. The company is on the verge of launching new products made with sophorolipids.

Other companies currently involved in the development of sophorolipids include France-based Groupe Soliance, Japan-based Saraya and South Korea-based MG Intobio. Saraya is already commercialising its sophorolipid produced from fermented sugar and soybean oil in a low-foam dishwasher detergent called Sophoron.

Ecover said it is developing rhamnolipids as biosurfactant as well. Rhamnolipids, said Develter, can be produced by fermenting C18 fatty acid source such as oleic or esters, and linoleic (probably a few more…) using the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The bacteria, according to my recent Micro exam, is an opportunistic pathogen that can seriously give somebody serious infection and even pneumonia especially for people with reduced immunity (my professor will be proud!).

USDA researchers are actually trying to develop rhamnolipids using the non-pathogenic Pseudomonas chlororaphis. Another company developing rhamnolipids is US-based Jeneil Biosurfactant. Their technology was awarded the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award in 2004.

Jeneil is currently marketing rhamnolipids in a biofungicide called ZONIX as well as a biosurfactant called RECO for use in cleaning and recovering oil from storage tanks.

[Photo of Cognis' APG facility in China]

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