The University of Arizona recently received a $4.5 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation with the goal of discovering effective environmentally-friendly surfactants. Surfactants are extremely common in the marketplace, found in a huge range of consumer and industrial products. These compounds are key ingredients that make soaps and detergents work so well. Surfactants work by reducing the surface tension between solids and liquids, or between two liquids that don’t mix. Right now, surfactants are produced by a chemical synthesis approach using nonrenewable petroleum sources. They tend to be very toxic, and can linger in the environment for decades. Because surfactants comprise a multi-billion dollar market, there is much interest in creating or discovering a “greener” option.
A promising discovery the U of A research team is looking into is using bio surfactants based on glycolipids, which are compounds with a sugar structure. These compounds are biodegradable, and possible to make using renewable resources, but it is difficult to produce large amounts of them. The research team is developing methods to create larger amounts of these glycolipid bio surfactants faster.
This year, the start-up company GlycoSurf, which was founded by 3 University of Arizona researchers, announced that they are ready to bring glycolipids to the masses. They recently established an exclusive license agreement for a new chemical synthesis of glycolipids technology based on filed US and Patent Cooperation Treaty technology. The company’s main focus for now will be on facial moisturizers and sunscreens.
As for the U of A, the NSF expects the surfactant research to be completed around August 31, 2017.
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