Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Eco-friendly, inexpensive surfactants

Surfactants are widely used for most consumer goods such as cleaning and washing agents as well as in many industrial applications such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. The development of a new catalytic process offers the possibility to manufacture non-ionic surfactants in the most environmentally friendly and inexpensive way.
Eco-friendly, inexpensive surfactants
Two major types of products generally characterise the market for surfactants: the anionic and the non-ionic surfactants. Unlike anionic surfactants, non-ionic are considered non-toxic, thus reducing environmental risks. Non-ionic surfactants are commonly derived from fatty alcohols, whose synthesis requires the use of fatty acid methyl esters.

This project's process directly exploits these fatty acid methyl esters as raw material for producing non-ionic surfactants. Hence, the so-called ethoxylation process involves significantly shorter life cycle than the conventional processes where the esters are used immediately. Consequently, new technology has the potential to contribute to a significant decrease in materials consumption and great energy savings.

In comparison to the alcohol ethoxylates, these ethoxylated rapeseed acid methyl esters are expected to be more biodegradable and have lower toxicity. Coupled by the fact that they are anticipated to release less emissions during their shorter production cycle, they constitute a more environmentally friendly technology.

The concept of direct ethoxylation of fatty acid methyl esters has been known for over 30 years. However, the new technology exploits a patented catalyst for generating non-ionic surfactants in the most cost-effective way. Most interestingly, the breakthrough technology is capable of the commercial production of surfactants when used in existing ethoxylation plants without any additional investments.

The new rapeseed acid methyl ester ethoxylates can find the same applications as the fatty alcohol ethoxylates do. These include consumer goods, such as soaps, washing, cleaning and polishing agents, as well as industrial products for textiles, fibres, lather, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and plastics.
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