A team of engineers has invented a new soap molecule, made from renewable sources, which could dramatically reduce the number of chemicals in cleaning products and their impact on the environment.
The soap molecules also worked better than some conventional soaps in challenging conditions such as cold water and hard water. The technology has been patented by the University of Minnesota and is licensed to the new Minnesota-based start-up 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, a leading journal in the chemical sciences. Authors of the study include researchers from the University of Minnesota, University of Delaware, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Sironix Renewables, and the US Department of Energy's Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation and Argonne National Laboratory.
"Our team created a soap molecule made from natural products, like soybeans, coconut and corn, that works better than regular soaps and is better for the environment," said Paul Dauenhauer, a University of Minnesota associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science and a co-author of the study. "This research could have a major impact on the multibillion-dollar cleaning products industry."
Conventional soaps and detergents are viewed as environmentally unfriendly because they are made from fossil fuels. When formulated into shampoos, hand soaps, or dishwashing detergents, these soaps are mixed with many additional difficult-to-pronounce and harmful chemicals that are washed down the drain.
Funded by the US 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 ' (OFS).
They found that OFS soap worked well in cold water where conventional soaps become cloudy and gooey rendering them unusable. Additionally, OFS soap was shown to form soap particles (called micelles) necessary for cleaning applications at low concentrations, which significantly reduces the environmental impact on rivers and lakes.