Many products in our daily lives are made of crude oil. Among them the building blocks of laundry softeners, so-called aminen. KU Leuven scientists now discovered a safer and more sustainable way to extract similar aminen from sugar.
"We used glucose for this research, which you can find in starchy foods like potatoes", professor Bert Sels mentions. "First off, we cut their long chains of glucose into short sugars using enzymes. Then we added a katalysator made of nitrogen which transforms the sugar into aminen. Further testing revealed that these aminen are suited to use in laundry softeners."
But what makes the aminen essential for laundry softeners? "They create a thin and smooth layer which sticks to the fabric you wash, which gives it that soft feel. Combine that with perfume essences and you have your laundry softener.
"On top of that, the process developed by these scientists could be no further from the current industrial processes", bio engineer Michiel Pelckmans mentions. "The raw material is not fossil, which means it's renewable, but the process in itself is environmentally friendly as well. It doesn't require any solvents or toxic byproducts. The process even works at a lower temperature, which cuts down on energy costs."
The current processes of extracting aminen from crude oil also houses quite some safety risks. "The biggest risk is the use of the volatile and toxic intermediate product called ethylene oxide, a substance harmful for both man and environment", professor Sels fills in.
Several producers of laundry softener are already carrying out tests of this process on a large scale. An economic analysis of the process and product also revealed that the new 'sugar-based' laundry softener will not be more expensive than the current, meaning that this new generation could well be a competitive equivalent for crude oil.