Novel biomass-derived surfactants for eco-friendly applications
Novel biomass-derived surfactants for eco-friendly applications

Novel biomass-derived surfactants for eco-friendly applications

Industries are currently undergoing a significant transformation driven by the increasing awareness of environmental issues. A key aspect of this transformation is the shift towards utilizing surfactants derived from renewable biomass. Sugars obtained from renewable sources can be chemically processed to create bio-based surfactants. Researchers from the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM) at Radboud University, in collaboration with Cosun R&D, have developed innovative molecules sourced from a sugar beet side stream. These groundbreaking biomass-derived surfactants have diverse applications across various industries. The results have recently been published in the ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering journal.

Sugars play a crucial role in the production of bio-based chemicals and materials. The production of sucrose also generates a by-product, sugar beet pulp, which contains valuable sugars such as L-arabinose and D-galacturonic acid. "In this project, our aim is to extract more value from these sugars, contributing to a more circular economy”, explains researcher Laura Jansen.

Biomass-derived surfactants

Using green chemistry, the team of IMM researchers, in collaboration with Cosun R&D, has successfully developed novel molecules derived from a residual stream of sugar beet production. These molecules serve as eco-friendly surfactants and exhibit properties similar to conventional (non-green) surfactants. D-galacturonic acid and L-arabinose, two sugars present in the sugar beet pulp, were modified to create a range of surfactants. These surfactants can effectively mix oil and water, just like soap. Consequently, these environmentally friendly molecules have the potential for applications in products such as cleaning products, shampoos, and conditioners. This is because they have comparable properties to commercial surfactants, including foamability. Also, these molecules are non-irritating to the skin and biodegradable. Researcher Thomas Boltje says: "We employed green chemistry techniques to produce these new surfactant molecules, optimizing the reaction for efficiency. We also evaluated essential properties such as solubility, foamability, skin irritation, and biodegradability." 

Sustainable products 

These innovative surfactants offer a sustainable alternative to petrochemical molecules and can be incorporated into a wide array of eco-friendly products, including cleaning agents, shampoos, conditioners, and more. Their development marks a significant step towards a greener and more environmental friendly industrial landscape. The next step is the scaling up of the use of these molecules in formulations to study the interactions with other ingredients. This will provide valuable insights for improving the formulas and performance of these products.

Novel biomass-derived surfactants for eco-friendly applications
Literature reference

Synthesis and Performance of Biobased Surfactants Prepared by the One-Pot Reductive Amination of L‑Arabinose and D‑Galacturonic Acid
Laura M. Jansen, Kim W. M. van Rijbroek, Pieter C. den Bakker, Dimphna J. Klaassen-Heshof, Wiert J. B. Kolkman, Niek Venbrux, Vienna Migchielsen, Joost Hutzezon, Wouter B. Lenferink, Sebastian Lücker, Adeline Ranoux, Harry W. C. Raaijmakers, and Thomas J. Boltje
ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering (2023)

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Innovation, Molecules and materials, Science