Research has discovered a way to use a natural resource with abundant availability in place of the chemicals used in soaps and thousands of other products.
The innovative project published this month and led by the University of Portsmouth has shown that a natural surfactant can be obtained from rice straw bales. It is the crucial ingredient in products that usually use petroleum-based substances and can now be 100% organic.
Biotechnology shows all its potential to solve one of the main problems related to environmental pollution, that of the use (and abuse) of chemistry in everyday life. In addition to the aforementioned Portsmouth complex in England, the team also included two Indian universities.
The natural substitute
The study aimed to find a replacement for chemical surfactants, the main ingredient in detergents, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, insecticides around the world. The surfactant serves to hold oil and water emulsions together, helping to reduce the surface tension of a liquid to improve a product's detergency and absorption.
Dr. Pattanathu Rahman, a biotechnologist in Portsmouth and director of TeeGene, has been working with academician Sam Joy since 2015 to create a natural surfactant by combining rice straw with certain enzymes. The two researchers obtained a high-quality ingredient that provides results identical to those of traditional products, but without pollutants.
Surfactants are everywhere: detergents, softeners, shampoos, toothpastes, paint, laxatives, make-up. Imagine cutting the harmful substances they use now out of all these products. With our research we are very close to the solution.Pattanathu Rahman, University of Portsmouth
The threat of chemical surfactants is very serious, given their impact on our oceans.
Rice straw is a waste product from the processing of the most widespread cereal on the planet, with millions of tons produced and burned by farmers as waste, resulting in air pollution.
Using this waste to make products will provide many benefits.
Natural surfactant, a total change of paradigm
A natural alternative to chemical surfactants will affect a huge market, the value of which will reach 2,7 billion euros in just 3 years, and will respect the directives (for now only European) on the correct use of this type of substance.
"It's funny. Many people view soap as a means of removing bacteria. We have reversed the concept, finding a way to make soap from bacteria, " says the doctor Rahman.