U of M researchers create 'perfect soap molecule'

Researchers invent 'perfect soap molecule'

MINNEAPOLIS - Researchers at the University of Minnesota believe they've come up with something that could help us clean better and greener than ever.

“We hope that the detergent we’ve made is the perfect detergent molecule," said Paul Dauenhauer, associate professor of Chemical Engineering.

Perfect soap may seem like an impossible goal, but after three years of research, with funding from the Department of Energy, the team at the University of Minnesota has a patent to be proud of.

"These are called Oleo-Furan-Surfactants," Dauenhauer said. "You'll see that on an ingredients list hopefully sometime in the near future."

While not a household name itself, the molecule could pop up in household products in two to three years thanks to it's potential to lower prices.

"What's great about this molecule is that you need very little of it to actually form the soap particles that are good for cleaning," Dauenhauer said.

The soap has also proven very effective, especially in cold and hard water.

"If you use a normal soap in hard water it will turn gooey, like it's hard to get out of your hair," Dauenhauer said. "With our molecule it actually works in hard water."

The molecule has also proven to do more than other detergents, meaning it has the potential to replace several ingredients in everything from laundry detergents to dish soaps.

"That's the goal right? Reduce the number of ingredients in your products," Dauenhauer said. "Fewer chemicals in your products in smaller amounts, means less that goes down the drain, which is always better for the environment."

The molecule is also good for the environment because it is made out of resuable biomass like corn and soybeans.

"For this particular one it's palm oil and sugars from corn," Dauenhauer said.

The stock is formed into a new molecule in reactors, with the help of a catalyst which was also developed right at a University of Minnesota lab.

"We make the feed stocks here, we invented the catalysts at Minnesota and now the soap is invented here at Minnesota," Dauenhauer said.

Call it a perfect combination.

Sironix, a startup started by another University of Minnesota alumnus is now working to get the Oleo-Furan-Surfactant molecule into everyday cleaning products. They hope to see it listed on several products in the next two to three years.


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