Kick-starting a green industrial revolution



Oil droplets emulsified due to the action of the bio-emulsifiers produced by the marine micro-organisms collection

A Heriot-Watt based research project which could help to make a vast range of international industries cleaner, greener and more sustainable has been launched at a gathering of specialist academics, research and development experts and industry representatives from around Europe.

MARISURF is a five year project involving 12 European partners with the aim to discover and develop novel types of bio-surfactants and bio-emulsifiers from marine bacteria for commercial exploitation.

Surface active agents (SAs), or surfactants and emulsifiers, are a group of chemicals with a total global production estimate of over 13 million tonnes per year, which form an indispensable component in almost every sector of modern industry because of their capacity to mix water-soluble and oily substances together.

Supported by a €4.8m grant from Horizon 2020, the EU framework programme for research and innovation, the Heriot-Watt team, Professors Mihalis Panagiotidis and Stephen Euston and Dr Tony Gutierrez, will be leading the charge to discover novel SAs from a unique collection of over 700 different strains of marine micro-organisms collected from coastal and open ocean environments  around the world. They have already demonstrated the potential for some of these organisms in converting natural feed stocks, including waste bio-products, into a range of sustainable and natural chemical compounds which could be used to replace traditional, often more toxic and environmentally unfriendly, SAs and emulsifiers.

Partner teams from a range of European institutions will be working on a number of other areas involved in extracting relevant chemicals, manufacturing them in bulk and addressing legal and technological challenges involved in bringing these natural, sustainable and useful chemical compounds to a range of industrial markets.