Environmental Health & Safety

Eco-Friendly Soap Molecule Challenges Conventional Cleaning Chemicals

By Chemical Processing Staff

Oct 31, 2016

A team of researchers, led by the University of Minnesota, invents a new soap molecule made from renewable sources that could dramatically reduce the number of chemicals in cleaning products and their impact on the environment, according to the university. The soap molecules reportedly also worked better than some conventional soaps in challenging conditions such as cold water and hard water. The technology is patented by the University of Minnesota and is licensed to the new Minnesota-based startup company, Sironix Renewables.

The new study is now online and will be published in the next issue of the American Chemical Society’s ACS Central Science, according to the university.  Authors of the study include researchers from the University of Minnesota, University of Delaware, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Sironix Renewables and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation and Argonne National Laboratory.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, researchers from the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation developed a new chemical process to combine fatty acids from soybeans or coconut and sugar-derived rings from corn to make a renewable soap molecule called Oleo-Furan-Surfactant (OFS). They found that OFS worked well in cold water where conventional soaps become cloudy and gooey rendering them unusable, according to the university. Additionally, OFS soaps were shown to form soap particles (called micelles) necessary for cleaning applications at low concentrations, which significantly reduces the environmental impact on rivers and lakes.

The new renewable OFS soap is reportedly engineered to work in extremely hard water conditions. For many locations around the world, minerals in the water bind with conventional soaps and turn them into solid goo, according to the university.To combat this problem, most existing soaps and detergents reportedly add chelants to grab these minerals and prevent them from interfering with soap molecules. The new OFS soap uses a naturally derived source that does not bind strongly to minerals in water. The researchers found that OFS molecules were shown to form soap particles (micelles) even at 100 times the conventional hard water conditions, according to the university. As a result, a cleaning product’s ingredient list could be significantly simplified. The researchers also use nanoparticle catalysts to optimize the soap structure for foaming ability and other cleaning capabilities.

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