Minnesota chemists create 'perfect' soap molecule: BTN LiveBIG

Dr. Paul Dauenhauer

Minnesota chemists create 'perfect' soap molecule: BTN LiveBIG

The Problem

Soap -the substance that all of use to clean our bodies, our houses, our clothes- is chockful of potentially harmful chemicals. By and large, modern soaps are produced from a slurry of petrochemicals, toxic antibacterial agents, and harsh surfactants.  And, while the trace amounts that we come into direct contact with are relatively safe, as soap runs down our drains and into the environment, those chemicals can build up to potentially hazardous levels.

The Idea

The University of Minnesota is at the helm of a team of researchers who have invented what some are calling the ‘perfect’ soap molecule. Made from renewable sources, the patented molecule, known as OFS, or Oleo-Furan-Surfactant, uses plant based materials in place of chemicals derived from crude oil and animal byproducts.

Dr. Paul Dauenhauer is an associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science at UMN and coauthor of the study presenting the team’s finding. Speaking with university’s new service, Dauenhauer said that OFS is poised to have a big impact on a major market.

“Our team created a soap molecule made from natural products, like soybeans, coconut and corn, that works better than regular soaps and is better for the environment. This research could have a major impact on the multibillion-dollar cleaning products industry.”

The new soap faces entrenched competition from brand names, but initial tests have shown that OFS actually performs better than conventional soap in many ways. Not only can it be used in smaller amounts, reducing environmental buildup, but the molecule fared well even when used in cold water and hard water situations, problems that most soaps use chemicals to overcome.

Next Steps

The research team’s study is set to be published in the next issue of American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Central Science, but is already available online for study.

The patented molecule has also been licensed to Sironix Renewables, a Minneapolis-based startup started by a University of Minnesota grad. Currently working on marketing OFS to major soap and detergent producers, Sironix hopes that the new variety of soap will be in products and on shelves in two to three years.

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