Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow


There is a clear societal, economic and environmental benefit to developing cold water cleaning technology for example in the developed world the significant reduction in energy requirements will have economic benefit to users and the UK economy by reducing energy bills associated with heating water (UK government statistics suggest that the average UK washing machine is used for 270 wash cycles per year with each cycle using 16 L of water. The cost of heating that water (assuming 10 p/kWh and 2.4 M households) is estimated to be in the order of 184 million); this reduction in energy demand will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power generation. People share a common desire to wear clean clothes, regardless of their wealth or nationality. Current detergent formulations are a complex mixture of reagents, but in terms of their cleaning composition but can broadly be considered to contain (i) surfactants to solubilise fabric-based stains; (ii) enzymes to digest stains and (iii) bleaches to degrade and increase the hydrophillicity of coloured stains. Typically, these formulations require non-ambient temperature water to be effective. A significant problem associated with washing at lower temperatures is the removal of fats and oils below 35 C, preventing their facile removal from fabrics. While the technological problems of cleaning in cold water are many-fold, ultimately it is the limited performance of enzymes at these temperatures that are major contributors to the problem.Several technical issues must be addressed to overcome these issues. The key elements are the inefficient activity of lipase enzymes at low temperatures and the incompatibility of enzymes both with other enzymes and other components in the formulation limit the application and performance of the most aggressive formulations. This proposal will focus on the development of technology that uses state of the art molecular biology to engineer cold active lipases and enables the currently incompatible formulation components to be applied together. This will be achieved by the encapsulation of enzymes and other components in novel degradable polymers.

Planned Impact

There are many potential beneficiaries and impacts of this research. The major outputs will be the realisation of a series of cold active lipases, the development of novel degradable polymers for phased release of active ingredients into the wash solution. While targeted at providing an enhanced solution for cold water cleaning, these technologies will provide several underlying technologies that may be transferred into other areas. Amongst these technologies, cold active lipases will be of value to the pharmaceutical, fine chemical, food, flavour and fragrance industries; novel encapsulation polymers will be of interest to the pharmaceutical and fine chemical industries. The impact on the public sector and third sector beneficiaries will be realised by communicating the outputs from this project through regular publication in high-impact peer-reviewed journals, at conference talks and through public engagement activities. Scientific discovery is central to the international competitiveness of the UK and as recently acknowledged by UK central Government, basic science will be essential to economic recovery following the current recession. The impact of this research on the commercial sector is clear. The project was formulated at an interdisciplinary sandpit that was run with the participation of Procter & Gamble in accordance with their strategic partnership with EPSRC. Furthermore, the goal of this research, to provide a solution to enhance the effectiveness of cold water cleaning is of great commercial relevance to P&G as well as other commercial ventures in the laundry and detergent business areas. We will work with the universities and P&G to identify further opportunities for developing and diversifying this research using other sources of funding and student projects. Most importantly in this project, the involvement of P&G in the research provides an ideal place within the project to transfer the technology to the commercial sector. Successful implementation of the science outlined in this proposal is anticipated to provide a new product to clean in cold water. While significant development will be required to turn the novel science discovered into a commercially viable product, the project partners are ideally placed to achieve these ambitious goals. In both the developed and developing worlds a product that offers significant advantage may result in commercial benefit for the inventors, universities, company and ultimately the UK economy. A large proportion of the worlds population spend the majority of their lives cleaning clothes as they do not have access to the laundry facilities available to those in the developed world. A majority of this cleaning is performed by labour intensive, manual (hand-washing) processes. The successful prosecution of the technology outlined in this proposal would enable more facile cleaning to be achieved in low temperature water and hence allow the liberation of these people from such time consuming tasks, enabling them to devote their time to other pursuits e.g. employment and education that may lead to personal and societal benefits. In the developed world most washing is performed in automated or semi-automated processes that involve warm water. Heating water above ambient temperature to effect cleaning requires a great deal of energy. The use of warm water cleaning in the UK alone is estimated to cost 184 million per anum; this of course requires the generation of power and hence, in general, consumption of limited fossil fuel resources and production of damaging 'greenhouse gases'. The removal of this requirement would provide a great environmental benefit with respect to both conservation of fossil fuel resources and reduction of greenhouse gas production hence helping to abate global warming. Energy savings will lead to several economic benefits from the consumer to national level. Individual consumers in the developed world will benefit from lowered energy bills.


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Description New assays for esterase activities have been developed.
A new family of esterases was identified and characterised.
These esterases derived from a rage of extremophiles and an exceptionally active thermophilic esterase was identified.
Highly active esterase mutants were produced.
Exploitation Route Any area where esterases are used.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology