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The goal of our research is to develop a new class of safer surfactants as a sustainable alternative to toxic Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). Although effective as cleaning agents, NPEs are bio-accumulative and degrade into more toxic and less biodegradable compounds that are known to be endocrine disruptors, threatening both aquatic and human life. While there are several partly bio-based alternatives for NPEs available commercially, their efficacy and bio-degradability are not well established. Therefore, there is an immediate need for non-toxic, completely bio-based alternatives (preferably obtained from biobased waste/ renewable resources) that can be as effective as NPEs.
Our research focuses on the use of renewable feedstock namely polysaccharide derived from bio-based waste fruit peels [such as polygalacturonic acid (PGA)] or algae (alginic acid) with no competing food application as starting materials for the synthesis of surfactants. Due to their large abundance and structural diversity, polysaccharides are ideal starting materials for well-defined modifications to create surfactants. Our work establishes modifications carried out in accordance to the principles of ‘green chemistry’ in aqueous/non-toxic solvents.