‘Greener’ Surfactants from Bio-Based Waste as Efficient Alternatives to Nonylphenols Ethoxylates

EPA Grant Number: SU835549
Title: ‘Greener’ Surfactants from Bio-Based Waste as Efficient Alternatives to Nonylphenols Ethoxylates
Investigators: Nagarajan, Ramaswamy , Bavishi, Vishal , Chittigori, Joshna , Magaletta, Michael , Mohd Aris, Zarif Farhana
Institution: University of Massachusetts - Lowell
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: II
Project Period: August 15, 2013 through August 14, 2015
Project Amount: $90,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2013) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Materials & Chemicals , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Surfactants are essential ingredients in cleaning products and have a profound impact on health and safety of humans. However, some of the commercially available surfactants such as nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) degrade into toxic products that are environmentally persistent and have adverse effects on humans as well as aquatic life. Over the course of the phase – I EPA funded P3 project, the UML team has developed a new class of polysaccharide-based surfactants that has significant potential for replacing NPEs. To expand applicability of these surfactants in numerous types of cleaning products, they require improvement in functionality [wider range of hydrophilic-lipophilic balance (HLB)]. Surfactant derivatives with better control of solubility and HLB values will be developed to overcome the problems identified in Phase I of the project. To ensure successful commercialization of these surfactants, demonstration of scalability of synthesis and performance of the surfactant in an actual cleaning product will also be explored in Phase II of the project.


The objectives for phase-II of the P3 project will include:

  1. Synthesis of surfactant derivatives with improved properties for ensuring better cleaning efficiency of hydrophobic dirt/soil, increase water solubility and improve stability in hard water.
  2. Scale-up synthesis of the bio-based surfactants using a more efficient microwave assisted synthetic route.
  3. Understand the underlying mechanism of organization, aggregation and cleaning action of these novel polysaccharide surfactants and modify the surfactant to maximize efficiency.
  4. Demonstrate commercial viability in a product formulation such as laundry detergent and cleaning products used in close proximity to food.
  5. Perform dermal toxicity, biodegradability and life cycle assessment of these bio-based surfactants to ensure safety, biodegradability and sustainability in the long run.


  1. Surfactant derivatives with improved properties
    • Solubility will be improved by lowering molecular weight of the polysaccharide-using enzymatic, acid or base-catalyzed hydrolysis.
    • Surfactants with lipophilic groups will be synthesized for improved cleaning of lipophilic dirt/soil.
    • Non-ionic derivatives of the surfactant will be synthesized to overcome hard water deactivation issues
  2. Scalability of the process will be demonstrated using microwave synthesis methods.
  3. The bio-based surfactants will be added as a drop-in replacement to NPEs to demonstrate cleaning efficacy in detergent formulations.
  4. Overall sustainability of these bio-surfactants will be ascertained by carrying out a preliminary Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). Human and ecological safety of these newly developed surfactants will be determined by performing dermal toxicity and biodegradability studies.

Expected Results:

  1. Development of a effective surfactants based on polysaccharides with better control of solubility, water-hardness stability/activity and improved functionality as alternative to nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs).
  2. Understand the fundamental interfacial chemistry and cleaning mechanism of these macromolecule surfactant using dynamic light scattering (DLS) and microscopy
  3. Establish sustainably sourced raw materials (waste to value) and commercial viability in a product formulation (laundry detergent).

Supplemental Keywords:

Bio-derived, detergents, renewable feedstock, pectin, fruit peels, seaweeds, green chemistry, sustainable development, energy efficient, waste to value, toxics use reduction,

Relevant Websites:

Phase 1 Abstract

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2014
  • Final

  • P3 Phase I:

    ‘Greener’ Surfactants from Bio-based Waste as Efficient Alternatives to Nonylphenol Ethoxylates  | Final Report