Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Development of Biotechnology derived alternatives for sustainable detergents and innovative strategies of using Sustainable ingredients by encapsulation and surfactants structuring

Final Activity Report Summary - BIOSEAL (Development of biotechnology derived alternatives for sustainable detergents and innovative strategies of using sustainable ingredients ...)

The development of detergents and cleaning materials presents a challenge. Not only do consumers expect detergents to remove a wide range of stains, but their environmental impact must be minimised and costs kept down, issues which the BIOSEAL project worked to address. BIOSEAL brings together academic and commercial partners from across Europe, including P&G and the Universities of Birmingham, Minho, Leuven and Graz, with the shared goal of designing the detergent of the future.

The seven PhD students involved in the project studied various aspects of detergent development and formulation. Bi-annual workshops allowed them to gain insights into their peers work, present their own findings and gain a comprehensive overview of the overall field. The students researched enzymology, biosurfactants, perfume encapsulation and product formulation, particularly in terms of the environment.

Compaction is an obvious way to reduce the environmental footprint in the detergent industry as it reduces packaging waste and increases transport efficiency thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Compaction requires the use of more mass efficient actives such as enzymes. Enzymes are biomolecules that act as catalysts inside a washing machine. Use of enzymes in detergents is desirable since, due to their catalytic nature, enzymes are capable of being used at lower levels than stoichiometric detergent ingredients. Moreover, they are biodegradable, help reduce energy consumption because they enable lower washing temperatures and shorter washing cycles and are derived from renewable sources. The BIOSEAL group aimed to research and understand the mechanism of those enzymes, and possibly include new enzymes that could potentially improve the removal of tough stains.

The role of surfactants in keeping stains in the water and preventing their re-deposition on the fabric makes them similarly important to the final detergent. The ingredients of a detergent that allow the dissolution in water of hydrophobic substances are often derived from petroleum, which has significant environmental implications. Our work in synthesising and developing biosurfactants - biodegradeable, and biologically produced, surfactants - from natural origins is designed to address these concerns.

Research has shown that the first thing a potential purchaser will do with a detergent is open the bottle and smell it, and a good odour is thus crucial to a detergent's success. Perfumes have a wide range of reactive groups, and interact with many of the key elements of detergents. We stabilise these elements through encapsulation, and draw a distinction between active elements that we want to release in the wash, and active elements that we want to survive the wash and be used afterwards.

Clearly a wide range of issues need to be taken into account in detergent development. Enzymes, biosurfactants and perfumes all perform crucial roles within a detergent, however, when closer together the active materials inside the formula are likely to react with each other more easily. This is an important area of research for BIOSEAL. We need to consider issues like solvent levels and all of the other materials in a detergent like enzymes, many of which have incompatibilities and need to be encapsulated to be made stable.

At the end of the project, the students could leverage detergent formulations with equal performance versus current in market formulations but with a compaction level of 3x, meaning that the same cleaning performance was obtained with a three times lower detergent volume. This was achieved by leveraging on new enzyme technologies, better mechanistic understanding of cleaning phenomena at the fabric surface, and the improved understanding of the interplay between enzyme - surfactant -polymers in the detergent formulation. On top of that impressive achievement, because of the work on perfume encapsulation, a new sensorial benefit was delivered to the consumer. Ultimately, the BIOSEAL project delivered a detergent prototype with dramatically increased environmental profile, which retains cleaning benefits, and delivers a fresh, new experience in the world of detergents