Chemists at Monash University are working with industry on a new generation of sustainable surfactants for use in cleaning products, soaps and cosmetics to as an alternative to palm oil.
The Australian Research Council (ARC) awarded Monash $442,635 to work on the project, which aims to develop the compounds using Australian-grown oilseed feedstocks.
Monash will work in partnership with speciality chemicals manufacturer, Axeio and GO Resources, a renewable technology company that specialises in seed oil production, on the ARC Linkage Project.
“These molecules are designed to replace current materials made from petroleum and palm oil, to fulfil a key role as the next generation of bio-resourced detergents and emulsifiers,” said the project’s first investigator, associate professor Rico Tabor, from the Monash School of Chemistry.
“We hope that the surfactants generated can be applied to household cleaning and personal care products, providing high-value chemicals from key Australian crops.”
Tabor said the produced molecules would have “improved biodegradability” and a “reduced ecological burden” compared to the controversial use of palm oil.
“Australia could position itself as a leading technology and materials supplier in this field as the potential for new export markets increases,” Tabor said.
The research team will investigate whether the new surfactant chemistries can be developed from Australian grown oilseeds for use in industries such as personal care products, laundry detergents and mining.
Axieo has committed $150k towards the new project.
Last year, UK supermarket Iceland became the first major supermarket in the country to cut palm oil from all its own-brand products. The retailer received much praise for its 2018 Christmas campaign, which told the story of an orangutan who has fled home due to the destruction of the rainforest by palm oil growers.
The advertisement was banned from television as it was deemed to be in breach of political advertising rules.