A cleaner way of cleaning
Without surfactants our daily lives would be quite different. These important compounds are crucial for all kinds of cleaning agents such as detergents that are used to remove dirt from the skin, clothes and household items. Surfactants are also used in lubricants, pharmaceuticals, crop protection products and foodstuffs. In recent years, a fast-growing, forty-billion-dollar global market for surfactants has emerged.
Traditional biosurfactants are excellent detergents, wetting agents, emulsifiers, foaming agents and dispersants, but they are often poorly biodegradable. This can lead to ecosystem damage and pollution of water systems. Some surfactants also cause irritation to the skin or other health problems.
One solution is to replace traditional surfactants with biosurfactants. The most sustainable type of biosurfactant is one that is fully biodegradable and sourced from a renewable feedstock. There is a great demand for biosurfactants in the market and a transition towards these sustainable surfactants is rapidly underway.
Yet commercially viable biosurfactant production has only recently become possible. Evonik has been developing biosurfactants since 2010 and has become a pioneer in this field. Over the last few years the company has commercialized a biotechnological process to manufacture sustainable rhamnolipid biosurfactants on a large scale.
What are Biosurfactants?
Bio-based surfactants refer to surfactants that are based on renewable raw material feedstocks. Although the term “biosurfactants” is often used as a synonym for bio-based surfactants, it is actually a type of bio-based surfactant.
There are three separate classes of bio-based surfactants.
are made of fatty acids and alcohols that are derived from natural fats and oils. They are biodegradable, insensitive to water hardness and mild on the skin despite their powerful cleaning properties. These surfactants are produced via chemical reactions and still contain crude oil.
are plant-based but are manufactured via a chemical process. They can be derived from tropical oils and some bio-based surfactants are less gentle on the skin and show poorer performance.
are excreted by an organism during biological synthesis. This makes them one hundred percent natural surfactants. They are gentle on the skin, impervious to hard water, and have excellent cleansing and foaming properties. They are also fully biodegradable and well tolerated by aquatic organisms. Among all biosurfactants used in the cosmetic and personal care industry, glycolipids are the most widely studied and commercialized due to their multifunctional profile, biocompatibility and eco-friendliness, especially based on their physiochemical properties and biological activities.
The benefits of biosurfactants
Biosurfactants have properties that make them ideal for use in skin and personal care products, including low toxicity, biodegradability, versatility, and surface moisturizing characteristics.
Low environmental impact and biodegradability:
Biosurfactants are derived from biological organisms, typically microbes like yeast, fungi, and bacteria. They are 100 percent natural, biodegradable, and renewable.
Low toxicity and skin compatibility:
Biosurfactants are more efficient and less irritable when they come in contact with our skin. The improved biocompatibility of biosurfactants is partly due to the similarity of their chemical components - sugars, lipids and proteins - with the molecules in our own skin.
High stability, efficiency at extreme conditions:
Biosurfactants are effective at extreme conditions, including high pH and temperatures. This allows their critical micelle concentration (CMC) to form with a lower amount of surfactant added, demonstrating their heightened efficiency as compared to chemical surfactants.
Evonik has developed glycolipid biosurfactants that can be used in a broad range of applications in the personal care and cleaning industry. Although they are mild, biosurfactants are able to solubilize oils and remove odors from the skin.
Sophorolipids were the first microbiological biosurfactants to enter the beauty and personal care market. These biosurfactants are produced by yeasts and occur naturally in materials such as some types of honey. A select number of yeasts such as candida bombicola can be used industrially to produce sophorolipids through raw materials such as sugar and rapeseed oil. Rhamnolipids are another type of glycolipid surfactant that Evonik produces. These glycolipids are naturally produced by Pseudomonas aeruginosa in oily media. Rhamnolipids have strong foaming properties and are very mild on the skin and the environment. They are also suitable for use in oral care products like toothpaste and mouthwash, as well as baby care products.
Evonik has developed a commercial-scale manufacturing process for rhamnolipid biosurfactants and is meeting the high market demand for biosurfactants with the highest standards of functionality and sustainability (read more).
RHEANCE® One – the gentle alternative to conventional cleansers
RHEANCE® One is a rhamnolipid-based product available from Evonik for use in rinse-off applications such as facial cleansers, shampoos, oral care, shower gels, intimate care, and baby wipes.
The product is manufactured by fermentation using sugars as the main raw material, without the use of petrochemical feedstocks or tropical oils. RHEANCE® One is fully biodegradable under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions, with aquatic toxicity levels far lower than common surfactant alternatives.
RHEANCE® ONE is an all-natural, multi-functional ingredient, combining powerful cleansing and solubilizing benefits, excellent mildness for skin and mucous membranes, and pleasant sensory with unprecedented environmental friendliness
This multifunctional solution features a long-lasting, dense, creamy foam and well-acceptable sensory properties.
It is available as a low viscosity aqueous solution that is easily processible and easy to handle.
Surfactants and biosurfactants consist of molecules that break surface tension of a liquid like water. This is why a surfactant is also known as a "surface active agent". One end of a surfactant molecule attracts water and the other end bonds with fat.
When a soiled surface is washed with water, the dirt particles attract the hydrophobic or lipophilic end, while the hydrophilic end points toward the water. These opposing forces loosen up the dirt particles and dissolve them in water: The surfactants cluster around the dirt particles and enclose them in micelles, which enables them to be easily poured out together with the wastewater. This guarantees that, with the use of surfactants, dissolved dirt can be easily washed off with water.
In comparison to conventional surfactants, biosurfactants are milder on the skin and the environment because they have lower toxicity, better skin compatibility, and skin moisturizing and protective effects.