Several biotechnology and specialty chemical companies are ramping up marketing and commercialisation of microbial-based surfactants especially glycolipids like rhamnolipid and sophorolipids as fermentation, extraction and purification processes for these surfactants have vastly improved compared to even a few years back. Production yields of these glycolipids have reportedly improved and premiums over fossil-based surfactants have also declined even though the global production volume for microbial surfactants remain low.
Germany-based specialty chemicals firm Evonik is considering the construction of a new major rhamnolipids production in expectation for significant growth in demand for the glycolipids-based surfactant. The company, however, has not disclosed any specific information on its planned new rhamnolipids production although there were news reports that that the new rhamnolipids plant will produce low double-digit kilotons starting in 2023.
Evonik said it has now developed an especially efficient surfactant based on rhamnolipids in cooperation with Unilever. The two companies have been working together on the development rhamnolipids-based surfactant since 2015. Evonik started marketing its rhamnolipids since 2018 under the trade name RHEANCE. Unilever has then been using the rhamnolipids surfactant at its dishwashing detergent brand Quix, which is marketed in Chile. The product is expected to be introduced in other countries.
Evonik Fermas is currently producing around 5,000 litres annually of its glucose-based rhamnolipid surfactant at a fermentation facility in Slovenska, Lupča in Slovakia. Since 2015, the facility also produces sophorolipids trademarked Rewoferm® SL and derived from the yeast C.bombicola. One of the first companies to use products containing sophorolipids made by Evonik was Ecover. Sophorolipids are said to be ideal for applications such as hand washing and hard surface cleaning. While there are not much limitation when it comes to end market applications for rhamnolipids, the biosurfactant is harder to produce compared to sophorolipids.