Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Why Renewable Surfactants are a Great Idea

Thinking what kind of carbohydrate surfactant is going down the drain.



Much of the thinking I do is done in the shower.  Maybe it is the early morning and without an iphone there is nothing more to do in the shower but think.  It could also be the water pounding on my head stimulating brain waves.  I do not know.  This morning I was thinking about all the soap and detergent from the shampoo I was washing down the drain.  Is this good for the environment and why has nobody come up with something better to clean ourselves and everything else that is dirty?

 Pouring detergents down the sink is not good for the environment.  Most detergents after WWII are made using petroleum.  Most detergents companies tell you to use way more soap than needed. A lot of energy is input to making these products from extracting the oil from the ground to refining the products to fit the needs for a given product takes a lot of energy.  Also the petroleum is getting more expensive and ties a country politically to other countries.  (Tethered by the detergents).  Shell is a huge producer of surfactants and the chemistry behind producing their surfactants have already been developed but the chemistry might not be all that green.

So with all the research and dollars generated by surfactant companies why have they not done a better job at making renewable detergents before it goes down the drain.  Companies like P&G have made better surfactants but more leaps forward need to be achieved in order decrease our dependence on petroleum surfactants.  O-linked carbohydrate surfactants have come as a result of this.  A startup called P2 Science hope to achieve more green chemistry to develop high performance carbohydrate surfactants called C-glycosides.  What is that? 

Carbohydrate-based surfactants represent an increasingly important class of nonionic surfactants with low toxicity.  Tween is an example of this (you might see this on some of the products you are using).  One problem exists with these: the linkage linking the sugar to the rest where a long alkyl chain or a cyclic residue can be placed (to achieve the desired CMC and detergent effect) is an unstable O-linkage which limits their use in products.  Carbohydrate-based surfactants or C-glycoside developed by P2 Science and Yale's Patrick Foley are more stable and can be tuned to have desirable effects to reduce the surface tension.