Sophorolipids the Biosurfactant of the Future

What is a Biosurfactant?

Biosurfactants are amphiphilic compounds typically produced by yeasts & bacteria, and secreted into the aqueous fermentation media in which the cells are growing. They possess the characteristic property of reducing the surface and interfacial tension using the same mechanisms as chemical surfactants.

In short, they are a class of surfactants that are produced by yeast and bacteria in fermentation reactions.

Why use a Biosurfactant?

As the demands on cleaning, cosmetics and industrial products grow, the world traditionally looks at surfactants produced using very energy intensive or economically intensive processes.

These largely petrochemically based surfactants are putting a huge strain on the environment, with increasing pressure from consumers to provide greener products and a solution is urgently required. Biosurfactants are that solution. By using fermentation processes that use renewable feedstocks and are significantly less intensive than traditional chemical processes, we now have the capability to make a truly sustainable surfactant. This also give the potential for a true circular economy.

These biosurfactants provide additional functionality, improve on cost:performance in addition to being 100% bio-degradable, non-toxic and entirely plant based.

Which Biosurfactant to use?

There are several on the open market currently ranging from rhamnolipids, mannosylerythritol lipids (MELs) to sophorolipids. They all have unique properties whilst also providing the cleaning power expected by the customer.

Sophorolipids are a class of biosurfactants that give a formulator a range of performance properties in formulations over a pH ranges from pH 2 to 10, which is the standard range for the majority of cleaning, cosmetic, agriculture and oil & gas formulations. Sophorolipids provide improved wetting properties than other biosurfactants, and are created from naturally occurring yeast found in honey, unlike other biosurfactants that can come from genetically modified organisms (GMO) or pathogenic organisms.

This article will focus on sophorolipids.

What are sophorolipids?

Figure 1: Two example forms of sophorolipids left Lactonic right Acidic forms     

The two structures of Sophorolipids give it extremely useful properties, which include (but are not limited to);

  • wetting
  • hard water ion resistance,
  • very low toxicity,
  • mild to skin (100% viable cells on the Episkin test[1])
  • increased efficiency for fragrance solubilisation
  • anti-acne, anti-dandruff and oily skin reduction
How to use sophorolipids?

In this article we provide two formulations developed in house in Holiferm’s laboratories. The guide formulations give an idea on how to formulate with the sophorolipids to give increased performance and added value to the consumer.

Table 1: Hard Surface Cleaner

Sophorolipids also have unique functions ,compared to other biosurfactants, that reduce dry skin and dandruff. The formulation below is a guide for formulators to start to produce a mild, anti-dandruff conditioner for sensitive skin.

Table 2: Gentle Hair Conditioner

Sophorolipids are now a viable biosurfactant class for formulators, not only giving a truly green profile, but also added value and properties to a variety of products and industries.
For more information please contact: