Detergents, Cosmetics, and Clothes Producing Everyday Products with Fungi

Most detergents, cosmetics, and clothes, to name just a few products, are manufactured using petroleum, making such everyday items anything but eco-friendly. It is now possible to produce the bio-based and CO2-neutral basic chemicals for such articles with the help of fungi. Fraunhofer research teams are developing fermentation techniques and manufacturing processes to produce them on an industrial scale.

Laboratory-scale bioreactor for optimizing fermentation conditions © Fraunhofer CBP
Fermentation cascade of bioreactors with volumes of 10 liters to 10 m3 at the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes in Leuna, Germany. © Fraunhofer IGB

If you find a layer of blue-green mold covering your bread, fruit or something else from your pantry, you’ll quite rightly end up throwing it out with the garbage – fungi are after all harmful to your health. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart, however, are particularly keen on molds, and in particular the genus Aspergillus. They’re also enthusiastic about yeast and smut fungi. Why? “Fungi have long been indispensable for antibiotic production or in the food industry. The fungi we employ help us to synthesize a variety of chemicals in a CO2-neutral way. They’re the basis for detergents, emulsifiers, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and plastics,” says Prof. Steffen Rupp, deputy director of Fraunhofer IGB and head of the Department of Molecular Biotechnology.

In contrast to petroleum, extracting chemicals from renewable raw materials doesn’t release CO2 into the atmosphere. And using fungi as production organisms has another major advantage: The pool of potential production organisms is almost inexhaustible, as is the range of renewable raw materials they can convert. As the fungi employ a host of different metabolic pathways, they produce an astonishing variety of products, which can be used in a wide range of applications.