University of Vigo

Procedure for the extraction of biosurfactants contained in corn steep liquors

Posted by University of VigoResponsive · Patents for licensing · Spain

Summary of the technology

Nowadays, most of the pharmaceutical and cosmetic products in the market contain chemically synthesized surfactants in its composition. In many cases, these surfactants are the same as those used in regular cleanup activities. In order to get more natural and biocompatible products, it would be interesting to include natural surfactants instead of chemical surfactants in the preparation of these pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. These biosurfactants are also present in the formulation of greener nanoparticles, replacing the chemical surfactants currently used in the preparation thereof. Most biosurfactants have antimicrobial activity, which would improve the properties of certain nanoparticles, as well as many pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. The main disadvantage of biosurfactants industrial production is related to the high cost compared to chemically synthesized surfactant production.

The solution proposed by the Chemical Engineering research group at the University of Vigo, is the development of eco-friendly simple extraction of biosurfactant from a corn wet-milling industry byproduct, such as corn wash liquors, better known as "corn steep liquor (CSL)", which could compete in terms of cost production with its chemical counterparts.

New and innovative aspects

Conventional surfactants are synthetic. However, many surfactants are produced by living organisms, such as plants or microorganisms. These compounds, which are considered natural surfactants and are referred to as biosurfactants, may be more effective than synthetic surfactants. The advantages of biosurfactants obtained from natural sources include the following: a) Lower concentrations of these compounds are required to reduce the surface tension of a liquid or mixture of liquids. b) They work under a wider range of pH, temperature and ionic strength and can, therefore, be used in a wider range of conditions. c) They are biodegradable and, therefore, do not cause environmental problems. d) They display low toxicity and can, therefore, be safely used in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food industries.

Main advantages of its use

The annual sales of surfactants were valued at around 23.9 million US dollars in 2008, with a global production close to 13 million tonnes. However, most of these surfactants are not biodegradable and may generate environmental problems when used for certain purposes. Although some microorganisms can produce biosurfactants, industrial production has not been fully developed owing to the high costs associated with the production and purification processes. The Chemical Engineering research group at University of Vigo proposes a new method to extract certain compounds from corn steep liquor. These compounds could be used as tensioactive agents, surfactants or detergents in different fields (in the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, for bioremediation of contaminated water and soils, and for agriculture and medical applications). After extracting the biosurfactants, the residual corn steep liquor retains its nutritional properties and can be used as a nutritional supplement in fermentative media. Compared to other biosurfactants and technologies, this schema shows several advantages: • Valorization of an aqueous stream generated in the corn industry manufacturing: new uses of an agroindustrial byproduct • Use of cheap and renewable substrate: corn steep liquor (CSL). • Simple biosurfactant extraction process: reduction of production costs. • High performance in biosurfactant production: biosurfactant extracted 12g / Kg of CSL. • Eco-friendly biosurfactant: using a natural and biocompatible product.


This technology involves the development of a simple process to separate biosurfactants from corn steep liquor by extraction with organic solvents. The biosurfactant extracted from CSL is mainly composed by C16 and C18 fatty acids. It has a critical micelle concentration (CMC) about 399.4 mg/L, being this value similar to the CMC of cetrimonium bromide (CTAB), a cationic biosurfactant used in the formulation of nanoparticles. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that, after extraction, CSL keeps the nutritional properties required for its use as nitrogen supplement in biotechnological processes.


Commercial applications and potential users: Industrial partners interested in using a natural product and biosurfactants in their formulations as: pharmaceutical, cosmetic, biomedical, food, and agricultural or environmental companies. In the food industry, biosurfactants are used to improve the rheological properties of products by favouring the formation of emulsions. Another area (also in the food sector) in which biosurfactants may play an important role is in the production of active packaging systems. These systems prevent pathogenic microorganisms from adhering to their surface, thereby increasing the shelf life of foodstuffs. For personal hygiene and cosmetic products, biosurfactants can be used in all types of personal hygiene and cosmetic products because of their good compatibility with skin. Production of biosurfactants by the action of enzymes (mainly lipases) on hydrophobic molecules has led to new applications for these compounds, mainly in the manufacture of personal hygiene products and cosmetics. One of the most important applications for biosurfactants is in the pharmaceutical industry. For example surfactin, one of the best-known biosurfactants, has several medical-pharmaceutical applications of interest. These include the inhibition of clot formation, formation of ion channels in membranes, and as antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and antitumor agents. Moreover, biosurfactants can be used in agriculture to produce herbicides and pesticides. The active components of such formulations are usually hydrophobic, and emulsifying agents are usually required to disperse the components in aqueous solutions. Finally, biosurfactants can reduce the impact caused by the release of diverse compounds, such as hydrocarbons, to the environment. Biosurfactants act by producing emulsions or by solubilizing the hydrocarbons or other water-insoluble compounds, thus increasing their bioavailability.

Intellectual property status

Spanish Patent and European Patent application.

Current development status

Ready for testing.

Desired business relationship

License agreement.

Related keywords

  • Chemical Technology and Engineering
  • Agro chemicals
  • Organic Substances
  • Pharmaceutics
  • Soaps, detergents
  • Care, Hygiene, Beauty, Cosmetics
  • Pharmaceutical Products / Drugs
  • Agriculture Machinery / Technology
  • Food Additives/Ingredients/Functional Food
  • Food Technology
  • Pharmaceuticals/fine chemicals
  • Health food
  • Health and beautty aids, Cosmetics
  • Chemicals and Materials
  • Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Animal Husbandry and Related Products
  • biosurfactants
  • biosurfactant
  • industrial stream
  • byproduct
  • corn steep liquor
  • cosmetic and pharmaceutical use

About University of Vigo

Technology Transfer Office from Spain

Public University

Send your request

By clicking "Send your request" you are signing up and accepting our Terms of Service and Privacy policy

Technology Offers on Innoget are directly posted and managed by its members as well as evaluation of requests for information. Innoget is the trusted open innovation and science network aimed at directly connect industry needs with professionals online.