Scottish start-up Eco Clean is undertaking a research project with experts from the University of St Andrews to develop a new process using fish farming by-products to produce surfactants, according to the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC).

IBioIC – one of the scheme’s backers provided six-figure funding support for the project, which aims to develop a more sustainable alternative to traditional petrochemical-based surfactants.

Eco Clean’s approach uses waste from the Scottish aquaculture sector to create chemical compounds, with a specific focus on fish oils rich in fatty acids.

The bio-based process developed by researchers at the University of St Andrews was more cost effective, efficient and eco-friendly than traditional methods of producing surfactants, IBioIC said. The next stage of development would ensure the new method was replicable, straightforward to implement, and allowed surfactants to be produced in high volumes.

“This next stage in our research represents a critical step in the process of scaling up the production of our sustainable surfactant,” Eco Clean co-founder and director Mark Hamilton said.

“We have already proved the feasibility in a previous study and hope that, by the end of this project, we will find ourselves closer to full-scale commercialisation and seeing the surfactant used in a range of industrial and selected household products.”

The project followed a feasibility study, which was jointly funded by IBioIC and the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC) in 2020, with the team having secured funding to take the concept to the next stage of scaling up, IBioIC said.

“I was already using fish oil waste to produce biofuel, so decided to explore a similar process and feedstock to produce a bio-based surfactant and we were pleased to see success from the initial feasibility study,” Dr Alfredo Damiano Bonaccorso, senior research fellow at the University of St Andrews, said.

“Bio-based alternatives to petrochemicals will be an essential part of meeting global sustainability targets, and there are wide-ranging opportunities to use natural feedstocks that one industry might consider by-products as the building blocks for new products and chemicals,” IBioIC director of business engagement Liz Fletcher said.