Most cleaning products contain surfactants – chemicals that create foam to break down oil, grease and soil. These compounds are typically made from petrochemicals – a non-renewable, carbon-heavy resource. Rhamnolipids are different – they are a biosurfactant and in this case are made using sugar as their main raw material.
We have been working with world-leading chemical specialists Evonik for several years now, looking to develop the use of rhamnolipids in our cleaning products. The biosurfactant has great potential to help reduce the cleaning industry’s carbon impact and as well as being fully biodegradable, with a low-impact life-cycle, it’s also ultra-mild on skin.
Rolling out rhamnolipids
When we started using it in Unilever’s Quix dishwashing brand in Chile in 2019, it was the first time the biosurfactant had been used in a household cleaning product anywhere in the world. Following this successful pilot and the biosurfactant’s introduction into our Sunlight hand dishwash in Vietnam, we were keen to roll it out across our global hand dishwash portfolio.
Now, our partner Evonik has announced the creation of a state-of-the-art production facility at its factory in Slovenská Ľupča, Slovakia, we can begin to do so. It will be the world’s first industrial-scale plant creating rhamnolipids and our partnership is helping to drive it forward.
“Rhamnolipids are an important part of our Clean Future initiative, which has set the goal to replace virgin fossil carbon in all our cleaning product formulations with renewable or recycled carbon instead. We want to make sustainability easy for everyone who uses our products. The partnership with Evonik helps move our brands away from fossil fuels while delivering the great clean our consumers expect and new benefits such as mildness on skin,” says Peter ter Kulve, President of Unilever Home Care.
Our exclusive partnership with Evonik also opens the possibility of using this biosurfactant in other areas of home care, as we work to fundamentally change the way our cleaning and laundry products are created, manufactured and packaged as part of our Clean Future strategy.
“The journey of rhamnolipids from the initial idea to the finished product has been long, but it is worth it. This partnership with Unilever is a result of our expertise in biotechnology,” says Harald Schwager, Evonik’s Chief Innovation Officer.