New company targets biobased C-glycosides for surfactant market

By Bryan Sims | December 23, 2011

Elm Street Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm based in New Haven, Conn., has provided financing for the formation of a new company, P2 Science, which aims to usher in a new class of high-performance surfactants, called C-glycosides (CGs), derived from renewable feedstocks.

P2 Science will utilize a patent-pending technology developed by Patrick Foley at Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering. Foley joined P2 Science as the company’s chief scientific officer. Neil Burns, an executive with 20 years’ experience in the surfactant industry, is the company’s founding CEO.

According to Burns, the company’s biobased CGs will be positioned primarily as co-surfactants to enhance the performance properties of primary surfactants that exist in the market today, such as Linear Alkybenzene Sulfonic Acid (LAS), Sodium Alkyl (Ether) Sulfates (AS/AES), Alcohol Ethoxylates (AE) and other similar products. He added that initial areas of application will be diverse and will focus on those where mildness in use, stability over a wide pH range, rich foaming, wetting, emulsification, and cleansing are valued.

“These products have not been in the market to date,” Burns told Biorefining Magazine. “As co-surfactants, the CGs will find applications in cosmetics, toiletries, industrial and institutional cleaning, enhanced oil recovery, environmental remediation, agrochemicals, lubricants and a few other areas where surfactants are used. Longer term, we will be looking at areas where CGs can be used as primary surfactants.”

P2 Science’s technology is capable of using a range of starch-based feedstocks for production of CGs such as glucose, lactose, xylose and galactose, all of which can be sourced from a variety of biobased materials such as corn, sugarcane, palm oil or soy oil, according to Burns, adding that algal lipids are under consideration for in the hydrophobic portion of the surfactant molecules.

Carbohydrate-based surfactants have long been of interest, Burns said, due to their desirable performance properties and their potential to be derived from renewable feedstocks. Although most carbohydrate-based surfactants utilize an O-glycoside linkage, recent advances in carbohydrate C–C bond formation allow for the synthesis of new classes of carbohydrate-based surfactants using a C-glycoside linkage. Among these new C-glycoside surfactants are a new class of cyclic compounds developed at Yale University, which, according to Burns, possess a number of advantages over conventional carbohydrate based products, including increased stability, being more “tunable” and ability to be produced with minimal energy inputs.

“We can already see that the anticipating manufacturing process for these products will be very low energy intensive compared to the existing surfactant manufacturing processes for other nonionic and ampoterics,” Burns said. “Our longer-term goal is for these new surfactants to be competitive with the commonly marketed surfactants and co-surfactants on a cost-performance basis.”

P2 Science recently set up a new laboratory in New Haven where it aims to continue development of the initial surfactant product range. According to Burns, the company has already initiated discussions with potential partners and customers in a number of key end-use markets to evaluate its CGs in their applications and to help with scaling up its process to pilot and beyond.

Although P2 Science is open to the possibility of sublicensing or partnerships for certain well-defined end-use markets, Burns said the company’s plan is to work with its manufacturing scale-up partners to transition it from lab-scale to pilot and ultimately commercial scale.

“At this point, the manufacturing technology will enable us to build plants for commercial-scale manufacturing,” Burns said. “To be viable in this segment of the surfactant industry, manufacturing will be at the tens of thousands of metric tons level. Realistically, commercial manufacturing is at least a couple of years out.”