Unilever has announced the launch of a research project with the University of Liverpool to develop the next generation of renewable chemicals from biomass to use in the manufacture of its home and personal care ranges.
Fossil fuel sources currently provide the basis for the majority of chemicals used by industry yet decreasing supplies and environmental considerations mean there is a growing requirement for renewable and sustainable sources for raw materials.
The three-year project will involve developing renewable chemicals from the surplus sugars, fats, oils and carbohydrates produced via commodity by-products and forestry wastes, creating a centre of excellence in the identification of sustainably sourced ingredients that it is hoped will end up in the production of some of the world’s most familiar brands.
The search for the high-performance sustainable materials will be located at the University of Liverpool. Rapid high-throughput research methods will be used to advance the development of the renewable chemicals.
Speaking at the launch of the partnership agreement which is part-funded by the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Paul Jenkins, Unilever Research Director said developing sustainably sourced and future-proof materials was in-line with targets under the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.
“This study has the potential to revolutionise the way we manufacture household products and further reduce the environmental impact of our products. The research could eventually result in a range of new alternatives for core ingredients like surfactants and polymers which go into many of our home and personal care products.
“It is the latest example of Unilever partnering with a leading academic institution to develop expertise to come up with practical solutions to long-term challenges. It also has potential to enable us to continue to enhance our products while also making them kinder on the environment,” said Paul Jenkins.
Unilever and the University of Liverpool will jointly operate the new unit, which allied to the existing strategic partnership between the two organisations, will help provide a platform to create a world-class scientific network within the North West.
Dr Jose A. Lopez-Sanchez, a lecturer in Sustainable Chemistry and Catalysis at the University of Liverpool who is leading the project, said: “This innovative project brings together academia and industry experts from the fields of materials chemistry, bio refineries, catalysis and chemical synthesis to address some of the challenges of converting biomass materials into new high-value chemical products.
The research will incorporate non-food grade feedstocks including materials such as sugar beet residue. AB Sugar, one of the world’s leading sugar businesses is a key project partner and will provide sugar beet residue from its refining process – a material with strong potential to yield new compounds.
Source: Unilever, press release, 2013-08-22.