Surfactants are surface‑active molecules that are used in large quantities in numerous products. Market studies postulate a global annual consumption of up to 20 million tonnes by 2021. In the cosmetics and personal care market, in particular, consumer awareness of the use of biobased products has increased. Therefore, companies have already established chemically synthesized surfactants based on renewable raw materials. However, the rather unsustainable production of most of the oils needed for their manufacture requires alternatives, which have been investigated in the SurfGlyco project.
Fraunhofer IGB focused on the optimization of the microbial production of biosurfactants from sugars as the sole carbon source. After selecting microorganisms that synthesize so‑called cellobiose lipids (CL), the fermentation process was optimized and transferred to a bioreactor system to provide CL samples for application tests conducted by the project partners. Beyond that, we established methods for product recovery that either use non‑toxic solvents such as ethanol or do not use organic solvents at all. Our partners have made progress in using CLs in indicative prototype formulations.
The work opens up the possibility of using CLs as multifunctional additives in cosmetic or personal care products. This is due to their ability to disperse lipophilic and hydrophilic substances in oil and water. Furthermore, the CLs showed potential as emulsion stabilizer and thickener. This points to future broad applicability in formulations of various kinds.