Microbes, plants and fungi all produce molecules with surfactant-like behaviour. Unilever Home Care has been exploring these ‘biosurfactants’ in partnership with Evonik, one of the world’s leading biotechnology companies.
What we discovered is that some micro-organisms can convert sugar into surfactants – in a similar way that yeast in beer breaks down sugar to make ethanol – resulting in the degreasing performance our consumers require, while ensuring excellent foaming and dirt removal qualities.
Using the latest advances in biotechnology, we can mirror the same process that happens in nature, but recreate it at a bigger scale by feeding bacteria with refined sugar, or even better, waste from the corn and maize industry.
The result of this breakthrough is Rhamnolipid, a type of surfactant found in nature which works in cleaning surfaces.
It’s a 100% renewable and 100% biodegradable ingredient, which delivers superior cleaning performance.
It works better in hard water areas. Typically, when cleaning products are used with hard water, their performance tends to degrade so you need to use more of them to get the same results.
Importantly, we have dermatologically tested it against irritation and allergies, and it’s also ultra-mild on skin, which sets it apart from other surfactant alternatives.
Peter ter Kulve, President of Unilever's Home Care business, says: “Our R&D team has been aware of Rhamnolipid for some years, but the technology and the science weren’t at a point where we were able to scale it. So it remained an invention in a lab, until now. That’s why we are so delighted to be partnering with Evonik. Together, our teams have worked hard to deliver a sustainable and safe product with even better performance.”