Researchers from the UGR are working on developing an organic detergent, effective, nontoxic, with low cost. The analysis of the capacity of the level of biodegradation and toxicity of commercial surfactants (components which perform the function of washing) is one part of this project, it has already obtained the first results. Ethoxylated fatty alcohols, normally used in industrial detergents for hard surfaces, are the best environmental option.
World production of surfactants (components which perform the function of washing detergents) amounted to two billion tonnes in 2001, including soap. Growth expectations for the future are the three to four percent, an increase that is closely tied to global demand for detergents growing. Parallel to the boom, concern also is growing, as these products are organic, non toxic, inexpensive and effective. In the design of biodegradable detergents that respect the environment, to adapt to the needs of changing times and have no harmful effects on human beings, a team of researchers from the University of Granada is working, whose work has already yielded its first results through a doctoral thesis, under the title "Biodegradation and toxicity of surfactants”, developed by Manuela Lechuga Villena, Department of Chemical Engineering of the UGR.
This first study focused on the analysis of four classes of surfactants are usually present in commercial detergent formulations: the sulfonate linear alkylbenzenes, which are mainly found in manual dishwashing detergents and textiles and is synthesized from raw materials coming non-renewable petroleum; the nonylphenols polyethoxylates that are commonly used in industrial detergents for hard surfaces, ethoxylated fatty alcohols, which have emerged as an attempt to answer this topic and nonylphenols, from oils and sugars, raw materials completely renovated, they also have excellent detersive properties and can be excellent alternative to alkylbenzenes.
Cheap and ecological alternative
Once the analysis of these four components of washing is ready, the playing conditions in rivers and seas in the laboratory determine the toxicity of these products in marine bacteria, the researcher has concluded that the fatty alcohol ethoxylates show excellent toxicological and biodegradation, which makes them the best environmental option. Furthermore, according to Lechuga Villena, a previous study conducted by the research groups of the UGR on Eurfactants, Enzymes and Emulsions and Interfaces and Biochemical Technology, shows that the combination of these surfactants leads to commercial products detersive outstanding ability.
The importance of this work lies in the wide variety of applications that have these components of domestic uses, personal care, textiles and industrial cleaning, hospitality, catering or food-and therefore also in the multiple effects that can have at short and long term not only in the environment but also on the human body (dermatological, neurological, cardiac actions, etc.).
Preventing the proliferation of these chemicals ending up affecting humans and their environment is one of the main objectives of this project. Therefore, these first results are "an essential step toward the formulation of a detergent that is capable of working in less aggressive way and get a high cleaning performance," says the researcher, who added that "this is one of the great challenges in the field of companies engaged in the marketing of this type of detergent, which would be very well received by consumers and by producers who manufacture equipment specifically required in the washing process."
Source: Universidad de Granada