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50 years of Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences: The faces and stories

Research portraits | Biopolymer cleaning agents

As resources are becoming more scarce and in light of the damaging effect that the materials used to date have on both health and the environment, biopolymers such as alginic acid, xanthan gum and carrageen – sustainably producible and ecologically attractive raw materials – provide an excellent opportunity to replace all, or at least some, products that have a problematic life cycle assessment. Alginates, for example, are derived from renewable, marine raw materials by harvesting brown algae from kelp forests up to 80 m tall or offshore algae farms or producing them by biotechnological means using microorganisms.Of particular interest is the use of hydrocolloidal biopolymers to develop cleaning agents, especially decalcifiers, as these biopolymers possess calcium-binding properties. Demand for cleaning agents is huge: In Germany alone, some 1,300,000 tonnes of cleaning agents are sold each year – and that is just to private households. In a commercial context, the cleaning services sector generates billions of euros every year.The level of limescale deposits depends significantly on how hard the drinking water is in the home. On ceramic, glass, enamel and plastic – limescale settles wherever water dries on surfaces, whether in small or larger quantities. Limescale deposits not only affect the look of surfaces, they also pose hidden risks. The function of pipes, fittings, technical equipment and machinery is significantly impaired by the stubborn deposits that accumulate in greater and greater quantities over time. Limescale deposits are also an ideal breeding ground for all kinds of microorganisms, while the proteins and fats in the deposits encourage the development and growth of bacteria (e.g. legionella).Current decalcification methods generally involve very harsh conditions, which pose a certain level of risk to the user and are not suitable for delicate surfaces. Common descaling agents contain aggressive acids and, with a pH value of between one and four, are extremely acidic. Most cleaning agents established on the market also contain softening substances, which are intended to make the product more effective. However, these substances are either persistent or nonbiodegradable and are harmful to the environment.At the Department of Bioengineering Sciences at Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences (HSWT), Dr Jörg Schäffer and Nikolas Trimpe, led by Prof. Sabine Grüner-Lempart, are developing sustainably produced, environmentally friendly biopolymer-based cleaning agents for decalcification. As well as the biotechnological cultivation of various algae in photobioreactors, the research focuses on the selection and modification of suitable biopolymers in order to make optimal use of the calcium-binding properties and enable the use of aggressive chemicals to be avoided. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is supporting this research project, which is being conducted in collaboration with HWR Chemie GmbH. This SME has already been awarded the Blue Angel in the past for the development of exceptionally environmentally friendly products.Further information on the research project (in German):

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