Potential commercial applications of microbial surfactants
Surfactants are surface-active compounds capable of reducing surface and interfacial tension at the interfaces between liquids, solids and gases, thereby allowing them to mix or disperse readily as emulsions in water or other liquids. The enormous market demand for surfactants is currently met by numerous synthetic, mainly petroleum-based, chemical surfactants. These compounds are usually toxic to the environment and non-biodegradable. They may bio-accumulate and their production, processes and by-products can be environmentally hazardous. Tightening environmental regulations and increasing awareness for the need to protect the ecosystem have effectively resulted in an increasing interest in biosurfactants as possible alternatives to chemical surfactants. Biosurfactants are amphiphilic compounds of microbial origin with considerable potential in commercial applications within various industries. They have advantages over their chemical counterparts in biodegradability and effectiveness at extreme temperature or pH and in having lower toxicity. Biosurfactants are beginning to acquire a status as potential performance-effective molecules in various fields. At present biosurfactants are mainly used in studies on enhanced oil recovery and hydrocarbon bioremediation. The solubilization and emulsification of toxic chemicals by biosurfactants have also been reported. Biosurfactants also have potential applications in agriculture, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, detergents, personal care products, food processing, textile manufacturing, laundry supplies, metal treatment and processing, pulp and paper processing and paint industries. Their uses and potential commercial applications in these fields are reviewed.