Kao Identifies Algae Enzyme for Sustainable Surfactant Possibility

In researching algae at its Eco Technology Research Center, Kao Corp. has identified an enzyme that can produce a large number of medium chain fatty acids, which could lead to a non-food source of raw materials for surfactants and an alternative to palm oil and coconut oil.

The enzyme identified can produce a large number of medium chain fatty acids, the main components of natural fats and oils (e.g. palm kernel oils and coconut oils), which are raw materials for surfactants in detergents, shampoos and other related products. This finding presented a strong possibility that the company could acquire a non-edible raw material source of fats and oils that is natural and not consumed as food. The company will pursue the technological development for the production of fats and oils from algae with the aim of technical production.

Reportedly, potential for algae to produce fats and oils is more than ten times that of such natural resources as palm. In recent years, many researchers have reported on the production of fats and oils containing C16 to 18 fatty acids as a main component to acquire new raw materials for fuels (biofuels) in replacement of fossil fuels. However, surfactants in detergents and shampoos and the base substances of various raw materials are C12 to 14 medium chain fatty acids. Therefore, the conventional scope of research on algae could not have been sufficiently applied.

The company found some strains that contained a large number of C12 medium chain fatty acids in C12 to 14 medium chain fatty acids through research activity on biotechnologies, which evolved from technologies involving enzymes for detergents. Additionally, as a first in the field of algae, the company identified a novel acyl-ACP thioesterase with high specificity to medium chain fatty acids from the genus Nannochloropsis.

Kao expects that these findings will dramatically accelerate the breeding development of algae for large-scale production of medium chain fatty acids. These results will be presented at the Asian Conference on Oleo Science (organized by the Japan Oil Chemists' Society), which will take place Sept. 8-10, 2014 in Sapporo, Japan.

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