Science and Technology

Técnico researchers participate in European project that aims to develop more sustainable detergents, textiles and cosmetics

The FuturEnzyme project aims to replace or reduce the use of chemical agents with microbial enzymes that can be incorporated in the manufacture of commercially available products.

Detergents, textiles, and cosmetics are basic goods of daily use with complex formulas that can damage the environment and generate a very high impact on CO2 emissions, in addition to the consumption of large amounts of energy, water and the discharge of chemical products into the environment. One of the most promising ways to alleviate this problem is based on substituting the chemical agents used in industrial processes by enzymes to generate these products. Their use in liquid detergents, as well as in the processing of textiles and cosmetic ingredients, could reduce CO2 emissions by 42 million tons per year, according to recent estimates.

Although enzymes that cover these activities already exist on the market, less than 10% of current consumer products contain enzymes, either because of their high cost or low performance. FuturEnzyme’s multidisciplinary consortium aims “to develop enzymes that can replace chemical catalysts and current enzymes, which are expensive and inefficient, for the production of highly sustainable detergents, textiles and cosmetics”, says professor Carla de Carvalho, researcher at the Institute for Bioengineering and Biosciences (iBB), professor at the Department of Bioengineering (DBE) and coordinator of the Técnico team in this project.

According to the Técnico professor, “the objective is not creating new types of products, but to improve those already on the market and widely accepted by consumers. According to the industrial partners, it is crucial to design smart technologies based on a new generation of enzymes that can be added as active ingredients in products to be used around the world”.

The project partners will look for enzymes in microorganisms or in their genetic sequences. Various techniques such as big biodata mining and bioprospecting, machine learning and protein engineering, nanobiotechnology, fermentation, protein recovery and purification, and pre-industrial testing, will be used by the academic and industrial partners.

The FuturEnzyme multidisciplinary consortium is coordinated by Dr Manuel Ferrer, CSIC researcher at the Institute of Catalysis (ICP-CSIC), and is composed of 16 European academic and industrial partners from Spain, Austria, Italy, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Germany.

In addition to professor Carla de Carvalho, the Técnico team also includes professors Joaquim Sampaio Cabral and Pedro Fernandes, the doctoral students Carlos Rodrigues and Ricardo Pereira. The team will search for more active enzymes in marine bacteria isolated from samples collected on the Portuguese coast, and will develop techniques to grow these bacteria in the laboratory. “In addition, we will carry out small-scale enzyme production and characterization, and test their efficiency in large scale reactors”, professor Carla de Carvalho explains. The iBB researchers will also participate “in the selection of the most suitable enzymes, in the development of bioprocesses for the production of new products, and in the assessment of their environmental sustainability”.

The project started on 1st June 2021 and has received an overall budget of nearly six million euros from the European Union’s Horizon 2020. FuturEnzyme will run until 2025.