Green Surfactants Update

USDA-ARS chemists working on new biosurfactant yeasts

I am starting to work on my biobased surfactants article for ICIS Chemical Business’ April 23 Surfactants issue to be distributed at the ICIS 2nd World Surfactants Conference in New Jersey.


In the new technology session, presenters will include Solazyme, LS9, Elevance Renewable Sciences, Codexis, P2 Science and Amyris as well as viewpoints from cleaning products manufacturers P&G Chemicals and Seventh Generation.

I will tweet from that conference (hopefully there’s wifi available) via @ICISChemicalBiz. In the meantime, here are two interesting developments on biobased surfactants that the blog has been keeping in its draft for months now.

One is this company called AGAE Technologies LLC, which has shipped its first laboratory research-grade biosurfactant called rhamnolipid that is used in environmental remediation, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, etc. AGAE started in May 2011 and has licensed this biosurfactant technology from the Oregon State University.

Rhamnolipids can be produced by fermenting a C18 fatty acid source using a certain bacteria, and mannosylerythritol lipids, which can be produced via microbial conversion of glycerin. I first wrote about this biosurfactant (and saphorolipids) in 2010 on ICIS Chemical Business, where Germany-based Henkel and Belgium-based Ecover were also looking into it.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has also been working on rhamnolipids (and saphorolipids) while US-based Janeil Biosurfactant has already been selling laboratory research-grade rhamnolipids as well.

According to AGAE, the company is currently developing commercial-grade rhamnolipid products of various purity specifications for pharmaceuticals, bioremediation, personal care and several other application.

“The real bottleneck to replacing synthetic chemicals with biosurfactants like rhamnolipids is the high cost of production. We are applying the latest genome sequencing technologies to strain improvement for NY3 and creating a nonpathogenic, high-yield rhamnolipid producer. Using renewable low-cost sources of ingredients, we are optimistic about further increasing the yields, reducing costs by scaling up production and promoting the global applications of these very eco-friendly biosurfactant molecules.”

Speaking of the USDA, meanwhile, its Agriculture Research Service (ARS) department noted last year it was able to produce saphorolipids using certain Candida species (yeast) such as C.bombicola, C.apicola and a new species dubbled Candida NRRL Y-2708.

Henkel, by the way, is already using saphorolipids, on some of its commercial cleaning products. The quest is to now lower the cost of these biosurfactants.

Aside from surfactant developments that Amyris, Elevance, LS9, Codexis, Solazyme and P2 Science are working on, other products I’ve been monitoring (lots of interesting discussions on this Surfactant Linked In group) include a coconut oil-based surfactant with a sugar-based glycol backbone, and a product called sucroglycerides based on vegetable oils and sugar.

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