Kao research identifies natural enzyme to produce sustainable surfactants


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Kao research identifies natural enzyme to produce sustainable surfactants

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Kao has found a natural enzyme that can produce medium chain fatty acids used as raw materials in the production of surfactants for shampoos and cosmetics, through its research, particularly into algae.

According to the company, algae would be more productive than the alternative natural sources of fats and oils, such as palm kernel oils and coconut oils.

It all began with Kao’s research activities centring on advanced use of biomass, at the Eco Technology Research Center in the Wakayama Plant.

The finding, which had a focus on algae, presents a strong possibility that Kao could acquire a non-edible raw material source of fats and oils that is “natural and not consumed as food.”


As such, the company says it 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,”​ says the research.

In recent years, many research cases have reported on 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.

When it comes to surfactants in shampoos and various raw materials, these are typically C12 to 14 medium chain fatty acids, meaning the conventional scope of research on algae could not have been sufficiently applied.


Using this information, Kao then 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.

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 1st Asian Conference on Oleo Science on September 8-10 in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan.

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