If you’re like most people, you’ve checked your car’s motor oil at some point in your life. It’s also likely that you’ve used shaving cream to shave and that you use a detergent to wash your clothes. If you’ve done any of these things you’ve likely used some type of surfactant in your day-to-day life. Surfactants are everywhere and are important in many of the products we use in our daily lives. But, what are surfactants?
Surfactants are compounds used to lower the surface tension of water. Because of this, they’re used in lots of cleaning products like soaps and detergents. Surfactants allow soap and water to interact better with each other in order to remove unwanted dirt and grime from various surfaces. Without surfactants, cleaning would be more difficult as the soap and water would not be able to mix well, or even at all.
However, chemical surfactants do have their drawbacks when it comes to the environment. Anionic surfactants pose a little serious risk to the environment, but cationic surfactants are more toxic. Cationic surfactants are resistant to degradation involving anaerobic digestion and are toxic even when not very concentrated. This issue increases the risk that they’d pass through a wastewater treatment plant without proper treatment and get into soils. In general, surfactants that are chemically synthesized are often petroleum-based and non-biodegradable, which causes them to remain detrimental to the environment.
Biosurfactant Origins and Benefits
Biosurfactants are compounds produced by bacteria, yeasts, and filamentous fungi. Like chemical surfactants, they reduce surface and interfacial tension.
One of the benefits of biosurfactants is that biosurfactants are low in toxicity. Most biosurfactants are also anionic or neutral with the exception of biosurfactants containing amine groups which cause them to be cationic. Many biosurfactants can withstand high temperatures as well as pH levels between two and twelve. Biosurfactants are also better at tolerating salt. They can tolerate concentrations as high as 10% while synthetic surfactants can be deactivated at a mere 2%.
Adding to their environmental advantages, biosurfactants can be made from industrial waste as well as from widely available raw materials. They can also be used for oil recovery, bioremediation of soil and water, and oil spill cleanup. Biosurfactants themselves enhance the removal of hydrocarbons through a number of processes and some have been effective at removing petroleum-related products from both soil and water.
Are Biosurfactants Biodegradable?
The simple answer is, yes! Biosurfactants are biodegradable. They are easily degraded by microorganisms in both soil and water which makes them good for bioremediation and waste treatment. They are considered a better alternative to chemical surfactants especially in cosmetic, food, and edible oil production due to their many benefits like low toxicity and biodegradability.
Interested in Biosurfactants?
If you are interested in learning more or purchasing biosurfactants Ecolink is here to help! Click here to contact us today!