The laundry and food company Unilever hopes to use algae to bring products to the market that keep surfaces clean. For example, an organic compound found in marine plants would help protect banknotes, kitchens or even teeth from fungus or bacteria. Now the company behind brands like Cif, Glorix and Robijn wants to experiment with the active ingredient in its household products.
For ten years now, Unilever has been researching a combination of substances found in seaweed that prevents the plants from becoming trapped under layers of bacterial plaque or fungi. With investor Innova Partnerships, with whom Unilever founded Penrhos Bio, the group copied this natural compound and named it lactam.
The essence of the substance is that it disrupts communication systems between microorganisms so that they cannot form so-called “biofilms”. These are layers of microorganisms that can appear on all types of surfaces, with dental plaque being a well-known example.
There are many uses for lactam, according to Unilever. For example, it could prevent layers of fungus or bacteria from building up on clothing, thereby eliminating odors or dirty stains. In addition, banknotes can remain clean with the help of the fabric, but also medical aids. According to Unilever, biofilms play a role in an estimated 80 percent of all infections in humans.
“We see this technology can mean a lot to sectors outside of the Unilever portfolio,” said Jonathan Hague, director of research and technology at Unilever. “Through Penrhos Bio, we want to work with other industries that can benefit from this solution.” In addition, the company is starting applications in its own cleaning products.