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Interview: Safe and green, how eco-friendly cleaning materials are changing the market

The multifunctional ingredients have caught the attention of top specialty chemical experts and companies, including Dow who signed a global distribution agreement earlier this year.

Keep labs clean. Image: Ronald Lieffering, vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for Locus Performance Ingredients, with permission.
Keep labs clean. Image: Ronald Lieffering, vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for Locus Performance Ingredients, with permission.

A US-based company is changing the approach to European product formulations by providing formulators with 100 percent bio-based alternatives to chemical and palm-based surfactants that boast a near-zero carbon footprint. The full lines of lactonic and linear sophorolipids, developed by Locus Performance Ingredients, are now REACH registered (in addition to USDA and TSCA registrations, thereby meeting a range of safety requirement). The products can be customized to provide higher sustainability and performance in a multitude of product applications.

The multifunctional ingredients have caught the attention of top specialty chemical experts and companies, including Dow who signed a global distribution agreement earlier this year.

To gain an insight into the new technology, Digital Journal spoke with Ronald Lieffering, vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for Locus Performance Ingredients.

Ronald Lieffering, vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for Locus Performance Ingredients. Image: Ronald Lieffering (with permission)

Digital Journal:  What is the importance of developing bio-based alternatives to traditional surfactant products? What are the key environmental and safety advantages?

Ronald Lieffering: Biosurfactants, like the ones produced by Locus Performance Ingredients (Locus PI), offer unique advantages over standard chemical-based ingredients. Traditional surfactants can be petrochemical or bio-based. Petrochemical-based surfactants can come with high toxicity concerns and large carbon footprints. While biosurfactants are a subcategory of bio-based surfactants, not all biobased surfactants share the same environmentally friendly attributes as biosurfactants. They can still contain harmful chemicals and be produced through high energy-expending methods. (See breakdown below.)

Diagram of bio-based surfactants. Image from Locus Performance Ingredients (with permission).

The term biosurfactant refers specifically to those surfactants containing biobased feedstocks AND which are produced by sustainable/non-chemical means. Fermentation-produced biosurfactants are the premier option. Locus PI specifically focuses on fermentation-produced biosurfactants—mainly sophorolipids—a family of biosurfactants in the glycolipid class.

These biosurfactants have a multitude of high-value advantages:

  1. Alternative to palm-based ingredients
    1. The use of vegetable oil-based biosurfactants can help reduce or eliminate the surfactant industry’s dependence on ingredients derived from palm oil. These high-performing, sustainable ingredients solve critical issues associated with palm oil usage, such as deforestation, disappearing wildlife habitats and abusive labor practices during harvesting. 
  2. No trace chemicals or toxicity concerns
    1. Locus PI’s line of glycolipid biosurfactants eliminate or minimize concerns over trace chemicals, human and aquatic toxicity, and biodegradability without sacrificing performance or finished product integrity. They are 100% USDA certified biobased ingredients that are non-GMO and contain no 1,4-Dioxane or other Prop 65 chemicals—meeting ingredient disclosure regulations.
  3. Near zero carbon footprint and 100% RCI rating
    1. Locus PI’s line of biosurfactants lower the environmental impact and carbon footprint of household, commercial and industrial products by replacing a broad range of functionalized surfactants. Because they are not chemically produced, these biosurfactants are not required to be rated using the renewable carbon index; however, they would have the highest RCI. They also have a near-zero carbon footprint.
  4. Can replace multiple ingredients with better performance and low use rates
    1. Locus PI’s fermentation-produced biosurfactants offer unique multifunctionalities and better performance when compared to other biosurfactants, biobased surfactants and petroleum-based surfactants. This is a result of their more complex structure and diversity. They can be customized to act as detergents, emulsifiers, wetting agents, dispersants, foam boosters and more.  

Digital Journal:  What were the main challenges in the development?

Lieffering: Costly production methods with limited volume capacities restricted the use of biosurfactants across the personal care, CPG and industrial industries, until Locus Performance Ingredients® (Locus PI) developed an innovative fermentation process that solved these challenges. Using unique, modular production, we can optimize the creation of pure biosurfactant ingredients at significantly lower costs.

We leverage advances in bioinformatics and applied microbiology from our parent company, Locus Fermentation Solutions. These patented methods are used to optimize fermentation processes at commercially viable volumes. The process uses renewable raw agricultural materials, like vegetable oil and sugar, to delivers biosurfactant at the high volumes, quality and prices points needed for industrial applications that require specialty compounds.

Digital Journal:  What are the ideal properties of a surfactant?

Lieffering: The main purpose of a surfactant is to reduce formulation surface tension. What sets Locus PI’s biosurfactants apart are their incredibly low critical micelle concentration (CMC), high activity and improved surface tension reduction. These result in lower dosage, lower in-formula cost and superior performance.

Digital Journal:  Do the surfactants possess any anti-microbial properties? What types of testing have you undertaken?

Lieffering: Our current lines of biosurfactants are not antimicrobials.

Digital Journal:  How have you assessed surface compatibility?

Lieffering: Yes, we assess compatibility by practical testing on different substrates, for example: ceramic, glass and metal. Different techniques are used to perform this testing: wiping, spraying and scrubbing, to name a few.

You can see a video of a lab test done with our all-purpose cleaning formulation here:

Digital Journal:  Does the product leave surface residues? What are your thoughts on residues?

Lieffering: Locus PI’s fermentation-produced biosurfactants have excellent surface tension reduction properties, helping to eliminate residues where they are not wanted, such as cleaning applications. Some formulations that use our biosurfactants, such as our hard surface cleaners, have a streak-free finish with no rinse required. Others, such as our car wash formulation, include a rinsing step in testing to remove emulsified soils, as is typical in the use of these products by consumers.

Digital Journal:  What types of presentations are customers looking for?

Lieffering: Overall, customers around the world are looking for more eco-friendly, sustainable formulations of products they use every day. They want neutral pH and safer options. Customers are increasingly demanding bio-based, biodegradable products, even in industrial applications. According to a Forrester survey, more than 50% of adult Europeans agree that it is worth paying more for sustainable or environmentally friendly products. 

Locus PI can help product formulators meet these demands through the use of our biosurfactant ingredients. They are USDA-certified for having 100% biobased, renewable content. They are also non-GMO, palm oil free and readily biodegradable. All of Locus PI biosurfactants are produced using a fermentation process with a near-zero carbon footprint for superior environmental benefits. 

To help streamline adoption of sustainable formulations featuring biosurfactants, we have developed a library of ready-to-use, clean-label formulations that outperform leading brands. They can be found here:

Digital Journal:  What are the key criteria for registering a product in Europe?

Lieffering: In the European Union, the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation was adopted to protect human health and the environment from harmful chemicals. REACH regulation applies to chemicals used in industrial processes as well as products used directly by consumers, including cleaning supplies and paints.  

In order to register Locus PI’s lines of sophorolipids, we had to successfully demonstrate that the biosurfactants could be used safely, without the risks associated with harsher legacy chemical surfactants. Testing shows the biosurfactants are not only a safer, greener alternative, but can also provide better performance.  

Locus PI’s REACH registration includes both the lactonic and linear versions of our sophorolipids. This offers formulators the ability for full customization, including creating specific blends.  

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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