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Effect of synthetic surfactants on the environment and the potential for substitution by biosurfactants
journal contributionposted on 06.01.2021, 14:19 by Phillip Johnson, Anna Trybala, Victor Starov, Valerie Pinfield
The environmental impacts of the use of synthetic surfactants are discussed in this work such as their high levels of toxicity and low biodegradability. These materials destroy aquatic microbial populations, damage fish and other aquatic life, and reduce photochemical energy conversion efficiency of plants as well as adversely affecting waste-water treatment processes. With global usage of surfactants being over 15 million tonnes annually, and an estimated 60% of surfactant ending up in the aquatic environment, there is an urgent need for alternatives with lower adverse environmental effects; this review explores biosurfactants as potential alternatives. The sources and natural function of biosurfactants are presented, together with their advantages compared with their synthetic counterparts, including their low toxicity and biodegradability. Their comparable effectiveness as surfactants has been demonstrated by surface tension reduction, achieved at much lower critical micelle concentrations that those of synthetic surfactants. The limitations and challenges for the use of biosurfactants are discussed, particularly low production yields; such limitations must be addressed before wide range industrial use of biosurfactants can be achieved. Although there has been focus on achieving greater production yields, a remaining issue is the lack of research into the use of biosurfactants in a greater range of industrial and consumer applications to demonstrate their efficacy and identify candidate biosurfactants for production. This review highlights such research as deserving of further investigation, alongside the ongoing work to optimize the production process.
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This research was supported by MAP EVAPORATION project, European Space Agency, Proctor & Gamble, Brussels and NanoPaint, EU Marie Curie project.
- Aeronautical, Automotive, Chemical and Materials Engineering
- Chemical Engineering