New soap molecule made from renewable sources, better environment
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New soap molecule to replace chemicals, better for environment

5:50 AM, 27th October 2016
Air bubbles in a mixture of liquid water and OFS soap.
Air bubbles in a mixture of liquid water and OFS soap.

MINNEAPOLIS, US: Led by the University of Minnesota, a group of researchers have created a new soap molecule made from renewable sources. This may significantly lessen the quantity of chemicals used in cleaning products and their effect on nature.

These molecules work better than some regular soaps in challenging conditions such as cold water and hard water. This technology is patented by the University of Minnesota (UMN) and licensed to the new Minnesota-based startup company Sironix Renewables.

The research is published online in the journal ACS Central Science.

“This soap molecule made from natural products, like soybeans, coconut and corn, works better than regular soaps and is better for the environment. This breakthrough may have a major impact on the multibillion-dollar cleaning products industry,” said Paul Dauenhauer, an associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science and a co-author of the study, UMN.

Conventional soaps and detergents are regarded as naturally unpleasant because they are made from fossil fuels. When formulated into shampoos, hand cleansers, or dishwashing detergents, these soaps are mixed with many additional and harmful chemicals that are washed down the drain.

Funded by the US Department of Energy, scientists from the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation developed a new chemical process to combine fatty acids from soybeans or coconut and sugar-derived rings from corn to make a renewable soap molecule called Oleo-Furan-Surfactant (OFS).

They found that OFS worked well in cold water where conventional soaps become cloudy and soppy rendering them unfeasible. In addition, OFS soaps were shown to form soap particles (called micelles) necessary for cleaning applications at low concentrations, which significantly reduces the environmental impact on rivers and lakes.

The new renewable OFS soap was also engineered to work in extremely hard water conditions. For many locations around the world, minerals in the water bind with conventional soaps and turn them into solid goo.

"I think everyone has had the issue of attempting to get shampoo out of their hair in hard water—it simply doesn't turn out," said Dauenhauer.

To battle this issue, most existing soaps and detergents include a variety of extra chemicals, called chelants, to grab these minerals and keep them from interfering with cleanser atoms. This issue has led to a long list of extra chemical ingredients in most regular cleaning substances, a significant number of which are harmful to the environment.

The new OFS soap dispenses with the hard water issue by utilising a naturally determined source that does not tie forcefully to minerals in the water. The analysts found that OFS atoms were appeared to shape soap particles (micelles) even at 100 times the customary hard water conditions. Thus, a cleaning product’s ingredient list could be significantly simplified.

“The effect of OFS soaps will be more noteworthy than their detergent performance. Because this OFS is produced using straight carbon chains derived from soybeans or coconut which can voluntarily biodegrade. These are truly the ideal soap molecules,” said Kristeen Joseph, chemical engineering and materials science graduate student, UMN.

The researchers likewise utilise nanoparticle catalysts to enhance the soap structure for foaming ability and other cleaning capabilities. Addition to biodegradability and cleaning performance, OFS was appeared to foam with the consistency of conventional detergents, which means it could directly substitute soaps in existing equipment such as washing machines, dishwashers, and consumer products.

The invention of new soap technology is part of a larger work of the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation (CCEI), a US Department of Energy – Energy Frontier Research Center led by the University of Delaware. Initiated in 2009, the CCEI has focused on transformational catalytic technology to produce renewable chemicals and biofuels from natural biomass sources.

Authors of the study include researchers from the University of Minnesota, University of Delaware, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Sironix Renewables, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation and Argonne National Laboratory.

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