Monash chemists may find a sustainable alternative to palm oil in soaps and cosmetics

supermarket products on shelf

The Australian Research Council (ARC) has awarded Monash chemists $442,635 to work with industry on developing a new generation of sustainable surfactants.

Surfactants are compounds typically used in cleaning products, but could also be applied to soaps and cosmetics, reducing the use of controversial palm oil.

The ARC Linkage Project aims to develop a new generation of sustainable surfactants using Australian-grown oilseed feedstocks.

“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.”

Associate Professor Tabor said the produced molecules would have improved biodegradability and a reduced ecological burden, providing further benefits to end users and in waste management.

“Australia could position itself as a leading technology and materials supplier in this field as the potential for new export markets increases,” Associate Professor Tabor said.

The research team, which includes Associate Professors Tabor and Kellie Tuck from Monash, Dr Brendon Wilkinson from the University of New England, and Graeme Pearson from Axieo,  will investigate whether the new surfactant chemistries can be developed from Australian grown oilseeds as a sustainable feedstock for high value molecules used in industries as diverse as personal care products, laundry detergents and mining.

“Axieo is delighted to collaborate with Monash University on the sustainable surfactants project,” said Graeme Pearson, Technical Manager at Axieo.

“The venture will not only give us the opportunity to innovate in this important and growing area of chemical compounds, but will further advance the creation of renewable resources for a greener planet,” he said.

The ARC Grant links Monash with both Axieo, a speciality chemicals manufacturer, and GO Resources, a renewable technology company specialising in seed oil production.

Axieo operates its innovation centre in the Green Chemical Futures building at Monash, and has supported two PhD students in the Chemicals and Polymers Graduate Research Industry Program (GRIP), which is part of the Chemical and Polymers Manufacturing Innovation Network. Axieo has committed $150k towards the new project.

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