Bugs help make eco-friendly detergents

Surfactants remove dirt from human skin, textiles and others solids.

Berlin: Environmentally conscious detergent manufacturers are turning from crude oil to plant oils, sugar and bugs to develop green products.

Researchers are involving bugs and fungi to engineer surfactants with the help of biotechnology. Surfactants remove dirt from human skin, textiles and others solids.

"We produce biosurfactants microbially, based on sustainable resources such as sugar and plant oil," says Suzanne Zibek, technical biologist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB, Germany.

Unlike their synthetic competitors, biological surfactants are biodegradable, less toxic and are just as good at loosening fats. But they are being used in only a few products and cosmetics, because of the steep production costs and low yields, according to a Fraunhofer statement.

One biosurfactant researchers use as an additive in household cleaning products is the sophorose lipid, produced by a yeast harvested from bumble-bee nectar.

"If we want natural surfactants to conquer the mass market, we need to increase fermentation yields," says Zibek. Accordingly, scientists are optimizing the production process in order to bring down manufacturing costs.


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