Evonik  ©
Evonik ©

Speciality chemical company Evonik started construction work on a new biosurfactant rhamnolipid plant at its biotech hub in Slovakia on 29 June.

The new triple-digit million-euro plant in Slovenská Ľupča was the world’s first commercial rhamnolipids production site and was scheduled to come on stream in two years, the company said.

Rhamnolipids are a class of biosurfactants which are manufactured via fermentation, with their foam-forming properties making them suitable for use in household cleaners and personal care products.

Evonik is using European corn sugar as the main raw material.

“This use of biogenic carbon requires no petrochemical feedstocks or tropical oils ... which means they are a sustainable alternative to conventional surfactants” said Evonik, which will supply consumer products giant Unilever in an exclusive partnership which began in 2019.

“When we started using [Evonik’s rhamnolipids] 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,” Unilever said in January. “Following this 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.”

Unilever said its partnership with Evonik also opened the possibility of using rhamnolipids in other areas of home care.

Evonik said its new facility would expand its biotechnology platform, an integral part of the company’s life sciences division, Nutrition & Care, which aimed to increase its share of sustainable solutions from the current 20% to more than 50% by 2030.

Evonik’s Nutrition & Care division also uses fermentation technologies across a range of other markets including animal nutrition, medical devices, advanced food ingredients and pharmaceutical drug products.