BioSurf – Novel production strategies for biosurfactants

Surfactants form an integral part of our everyday life with applications reaching far beyond our hygienic needs ranging from asphalt over food to fuel additives all the way to compounds with antibiotic activities. We aim at an increased replacement of petro-based surfactants by biosurfactants generated form renewable resources.

Zellen des Brandpilzes Ustilago maydis
© Fraunhofer IGB
Biosurfactant lipids are deposited as needle-shaped crystals at high product concentrations.


Central topics are the identification of novel enzymes and microorganisms for new and more efficient biosurfactant production, understanding of cellular regulatory processes involved in biosurfactant production and consequent metabolic engineering for the improvement of the respective microorganisms also with respect to stress resistance during production, enzyme design combining rational and or evolutionary methods for enzymatic synthesis of surfactants and scale-up of bioprocesses including innovative down-stream processing using membrane technologies and biocatalyst recycling.

Project plan

These objectives will be achieved by connecting five technical work packages that address the entire biosurfactant value chain. The expected results include the identification of new, patentable microbial and enzymatically synthesized biosurfactants with significant economic exploitation potential for industrial applications. The construction of new production strains of biosurfactants with better productivity is envisaged as well as new enzyme products with advantageous properties towards the synthesis or modification of biosurfactants. In addition new technologies for fermentation and downstream processing of surfactants will be developed, including immobilized enzymes and in situ product removal from fermentations or biochemical conversions. By coupling of fermentation and separation technology we do not only expect to improve the down-stream process, but also envisage the improvement of surfactant production by avoiding product inhibition conditions. Within this project, BioCat has successfully developed enzymatic processes for the production of new biosurfactants based on terpenes.


Exploitation is ensured by three companies. Ecover is a producer and supplier of detergents as well as biosurfactants. Ecover has both the marketing and distribution power to further develop the achieved R&D results into products and place them at the market. Enzymes and strains developed in the consortium will be commercialized by c-LEcta and engineering developments of in situ product recovery (ISPR) by Tormans, both SMEs.

Project information

Project title

BioSurf – Novel Production Strategies for Biosurfactants


Project duration

March 2011 – February 2014


Project partners

  • Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology, Stuttgart and Straubing
  • Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe
  • c-LEcta GmbH, Leipzig
  • Flemish Institute for Technological Reserach, Mol
  • Tormans Engineering Noord BVBA, Geel
  • Ecover Belgium NV, Malle
  • LISBP, Toulouse


BioSurf is supported by the ERA-NET Industrial Biotechnology 2nd Joint Call, funded by the respective national and regional agencies.

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