Breeding Bugs Can Make Clean Detergent

Well, we all learned about surfactants and how to chemically remove oils and fats from a greased up surface when we took chemistry class in high school. However, man-made surfactants operate on a much more massive scale than their eco friendly counterpart, biological surfactants, which operate on a microscopic scale, allowing detergent manufacturers to pull their production lines away from crude oil manufacturing and toward truly sustainable practices. Biological surfactants which come from plant oil and various extracts from bugs are already getting the job done, according to researchers. So why isn’t every detergent manufacturer taking advantage of this?

So far, breeding plants and bugs en masse has been difficult to do, and it yields a very low amount of substance by which to turn into detergent production. In other words, the process already works and is highly effective, but a lot of bugs and plants are needed in order to make the process complete, and all of them produce a very small amount of eco friendly detergent. This is nowhere near the amount of detergent in demand from the consumer markets, and it is nowhere near the amount of detergent which is produced every year to satisfy this demand. This, in turn, makes manufacturing costs really expensive, which is not an incentive for any company to continue growing eco friendly.

Suzanne Zibek, who is a technical biologist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB, Germany, says, “If we want natural surfactants to conquer the mass market, we need to increase fermentation yields.” Zibek went on to state that her team can produce microbial surfactants based upon renewable resources, such as plant oils and sugar. Even bumblebee nectar, which is obviously a warm sugar, can produce yeast which can be refined to make sophorose lipid, which is a natural additive which researchers are using in detergents.

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