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Rhodia launches first wholly vegetable-derived surfactant

By Katie Bird , 08-Apr-2010
Last updated on 08-Apr-2010 at 12:57 GMT

A surfactant that is totally petrochemical free has been launched by speciality chemicals supplier Rhodia, for use in shampoos, liquid soaps and body washes.

The 100 per cent vegetable origin product, Rhodapex ESB-70 NAT, can replace petrochemical-derived sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) in products that require foaming and cleansing characteristics.

According to the company, this is the first sodium laureth sulphate of its kind that uses vegetable derived ethylene oxide, instead of its petrochemical derived counterpart.

“A conventional SLES is based on a natural alcohol, which usually comes from palm oil, to which ethylene oxide is added. Our main innovation is that the ethylene oxide we use is derived from sugar cane rather than from crude oil,” explained Sandra Catarino, business development manager for home and personal care, Europe.

This results in a petrochemical-free surfactant that is suitable for Ecocert certified products.

Reduced carbon footprint

In addition, the company claims that the manufacture of the vegetable surfactant can reduce greenhouse gas emissions when compared to the conventional ingredient.

“Our internal data on life cycle assessments show that we can save up to 30 per cent greenhouse gas emissions by making the vegetable-derived ingredient rather than the conventional one” Catarino said.

A number of reasons explain this drop in emissions including the vegetable source. Using sugar cane can help save the emissions related to crude oil extraction and the operations to convert it into ethylene oxide.

In addition, Catarino explained that the residues that remain after the sugar cane has been converted into ethylene oxide can be burnt to create energy and electricity which has a positive impact on the carbon footprint.

The third factor that helps to reduce the carbon footprint is related to the concentration of the ingredient.

At 70 per cent, it is higher than the 30 per cent concentration that the surfactant is usually supplied in.

Increasing the concentration allows formulators to use smaller volumes for the same effect which decreases volumes transported and therefore brings emissions down.

Catarino explained that the product is usually dispensed at a 30 per cent concentration (70 per cent water) as this gives it a consistency close to water, making it easy to handle. At 100 per cent concentration it would be so viscous the ingredient would be difficult to work with, she said.

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