October 18, 2022 | Chemicals
Green chemicals are rapidly making headway into the detergents industry, with established companies and startups innovating with microbe alternatives.
Consumers’ increasing demand for ecologically friendly cleaning products are proving to be a wake-up call for chemical companies.
As per estimates, biosurfactants are expected to grow over 5.5% CAGR, while the market microbial biosurfactants like rhamnolipids could possibly reach over $145 million by 2026.
Microbial biosurfactants are considered an effective, biocompatible and eco-friendly solution as they are produced using living cells, mostly bacteria and yeasts, without the intermediation of organic synthesis. They can also be mass-cultivated inside microbes such as pseudomonas, bacillus, rhodococcus and candida.
Listed below are some uses of microbial biosurfactants in cosmetic, personal care and pharmaceutical industries.
Using microbial biosurfactants helps:
Plant-based surfactants — especially palm oil, which is currently a major source of biomass for biosurfactants — often depend on environmentally destructive monocultures.
Environmental risks linked with synthetic surfactants or plant-based bio-surfactants can be alleviated by using microbial biosurfactants for soaps, shampoos, and washing liquids preparations.
Microbial biosurfactants are 100% bio-degradable, have low toxicity, and are effective at extreme temperatures or pH values.
Owing to high operational costs to obtain microbial biosurfactants compared to synthetic or plant-based surfactants, their usage is limited to the personal care and pharmaceutical industries.
The process of sourcing microbial biosurfactants is far more sophisticated and less optimized than plant extraction. One of the costliest aspects of making commercially viable fermented biosurfactants is the isolation and purification process, where the target chemical is removed from the microbial broth after the growth period is complete.
This challenge can be overcome by commercializing fermented biosurfactants. While this development remains a work in progress, it is expected to bring down the costs.
Also, given its significant advantages over plant and synthetic surfactants, microbial surfactant production is attracting large investments for expansion.
For instance, in 2021, Evonik announced that it will build a multi-million-Euro plant in Slovakia to scale their new rhamnolipid biosurfactant, a plant large enough to produce surfactants to dramatically bring down the market price of microbial substitute. Another example was Stephan’s acquisition of NatSurFact, the rhamnolipid business from Logos Technologies, in 2020 with the aim of expanding its microbial product offering.
Genetically engineering bacteria for increased yield can also help improve the returns on investments of microbial surfactants production.
The Future of Microbial Surfactants
Due to the current trend towards sustainable consumer behaviors, it is expected there will be a significant effort to develop cosmetic, personal care and pharmaceutical formulations in which synthetic surfactants are replaced by renewable and environmentally friendly microbial biosurfactants.
Apart from microbial surfactants becoming economic, they may also be incorporated as a separate group of surfactants by international cosmetic regulations to obtain more biocompatible and greener formulations.
This will lead to more widespread adoption of microbial surfactants and push the industry on to a greener path.
Author: Pranali Dhumal