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Ecosurfactant development leads to greener cleaning products

01/06/2010

  • Energy efficiency,
  • Sustainable Consumption and Production,
  • Technology
  • Belgium
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Ecological cleaning products manufacturer Ecover has developed an innovative method for making ecosurfactants using a low-energy biochemical process based on natural fermentation.

Surfactants are the active ingredient in the majority of household cleaning products. As wetting agents, they lower the surface tension of liquid cleaners and contribute to their effectiveness. However conventional cleaning products use petrochemical-based surfactants. Belgian-based manufacturer Ecover has developed an innovative low-energy manufacturing process to produce ecosurfactants from natural, renewable raw materials.

As 70% of the ingredients used in conventional surfactants are derived from fossil fuels, they are essentially non-renewable. For this reason, Ecover has only ever used renewable plant-based surfactants. However, the method for producing both petrochemical- and plant-based surfactants requires a chemical process involving high pressures and temperatures. Typically, production needs temperatures of 100°C and between 2 and 5 bars of pressure, which results in high energy use.

Saving energy through natural processes

Ecover’s innovative process uses a special ‘bioreactor’ to produce yeast cells, which the company harnesses to create its ecosurfactants. The process operates at a low temperature of 30°C and only requires ambient atmospheric pressure, thereby saving significant amounts of energy. Moreover, as the ingredients for ecosurfactants can be sourced locally, they yield further emissions and energy savings.

After spending 7 years and 50 000 man hours developing this process, Ecover has patented the use of low-energy produced ecosurfactants in washing and cleaning products. The process has been in commercial use since April 2009.

Shortlisted for success

Ecover’s ecosurfactant process was shortlisted for the European Business Awards for the Environment (EBAE) 2010. It was selected as one of 10 finalists from 141 entries – a record number for the competition. The EBAE – launched in 1987 – recognises and promotes today’s pioneers in green innovation. Ecover was also one of the three winners of the 2009 Belgian Business Awards for the Environment for its ecosurfactant process.

More information:

Ecover:
http://www.ecover.com

European Business Awards for the Environment:
http://www.ebae.eu

«Jury names EBAE 2010 finalists» Newsletter EBAE n. 9:
http://ec.europa.eu/environment/awards/downloads/ebae_newsletter_issue09.pdf

«Janssen Pharmaceutica, Ecover en Umicore winnen de Belgian Business Awards for the Environment 2009» Belgian Business Awards for the Environment 2009:
http://www.businessandsociety.be/nl/activiteiten/belgian-business-awards-for-the-environment

 

Related information on the ETAP website:

«Janssen Pharmaceutica, Ecover en Umicore winnen de Belgian Business Awards for the Environment 2009» Belgian Business Awards for the Environment 2009:

http://www.businessandsociety.be/nl/activiteiten/belgian-business-awards-for-the-environment

A history of ecological production

For 30 years, Ecover has produced effective cleaning products which have the absolute minimum effect on the environment. The development of the ecosurfactant process is just one indication of the company’s commitment to furthering research into new products and techniques. Ecover’s headquarters in Malle, Belgium was the world’s first ecological factory when opened in 1992. Built entirely from recycled or recyclable materials, the factory features a grass-covered roof for insulation. In addition, waste water is distributed throughout the factory by windmill pump for reuse.