Brewing up clean clothes

Researchers in Germany have found an alternative to oil-derived surfactants based on microbial fermentation of cellobiose lipids (CL) and mannosylerythritol lipids (MEL). These materials could be sustainably sourced and so offer manufacturers of cleaning products a so-called "green" alternative. Suzanne Zibek of the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB and colleagues point out that these lipids are produced in large quantities by smut fungi that infect corn plants. The surfactants brewed up from these compounds are biodegradable, less toxic than petroleum-based products and are just as effective as conventional cleaning agents at emulsifying fats. The team adds that sugar extracted from straw can even be used as the food source for the fermentation process.