Cornstarch Yields Eco-Friendly Laundry
Ingredient By Jan
Suszkiw April 2, 2007
A new, environmentally friendly ingredient for laundry and dishwashing
detergents is now in the works, thanks to the efforts of Agricultural Research
Service (ARS) scientists, collaborating
with the Birmingham, Ala., company Folia,
Under a four-year cooperative agreement, ARS scientists
Willett have worked with Folia scientists and others to develop a detergent
additivecalled a "cobuilder"which prevents the formation of crusty
deposits known as "scale."
The new cobuilder ingredient is derived from cornstarch and is
In hard-water regions, scale can cause harm ranging from discolored
clothing and cloudy dishes to diminished cooling and washer damage. Currently,
the petroleum derivative polyacrylic acid is used. It improves cleaning power
by "softening" water and keeping calcium carbonate from crystallizing. But
polyacrylic acid isn't biodegradable, which raises the likelihood for this
additive to accumulate in the environment, notes Shogren, a chemist. He and
Willett, a chemical engineer, work at the
National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill.
In studies there, Shogren and Willett researched ways to make a
scale-fighting cobuilder that would be degradable by microbes in soil and
water. That led to the use of two food-grade additivescitric acid and
sorbitoland a heat-based method of fusing them so that they would form
In tests, solutions of calcium carbonate formed crystals within one
minute. But adding the polyester-based cobuilder staved off crystal formation
for 10 minutes. Although less polyacrylic acid was needed to do the same, it
lacked the biodegradability of the polyester-based cobuilder.
The team's method of making the polyester cobuilders from citric acid
and sorbitol avoids the use of costly solvents, which has restricted the sales
of similar biodegradable detergent additives to niche markets. The team's focus
now is scaling up production of the cornstarch-based polyester cobuilders.
Folia is also sending product samples out for independent testing.
about the work in the April 2007 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.