A 7 million euros European-funded project has been launched with the intention of replacing chemical cosmetic production techniques with eco-friendly alternatives. This is the OPTIBIOCAT project which wants to provide technical improvement to the natural cosmetics sector, required to satisfy consumer demand for natural and ecological products.

Building on a diverse consortium of 16 partners from eight European countries, OPTIBIOCAT, which began in 2013 and runs until 2017, will furnish companies with knowledge and expertise to introduce environment-friendly processes and use new natural ingredients. This will be achieved by using enzymes – cellular catalysts that control reactions which take place in cells and increase the speed compared to conventional chemicals. It is called biocatalyts, it is better because they can function in lower temperatures. Moreover, energy requirement and unwanted side effects are reduced (such as odor). In addition, enzymes are specific for the type of reaction they catalyse – there are no by-products or waste.

OPTIBIOCAT

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 “The environmental footprint for the production of the identified antioxidants will be significantly reduced with our innovative biocatalysts,” says Vincenza Faraco from the University of Naples, who leads the OPTIBIOCAT consortium. “In addition, unwanted side reactions will be minimised, resulting in highly pure products that will allow for improved product quality and reduced process costs.”

For example, one area where the application of enzymes has significant potential as an ingredient, is in skin protection products. Enzymes have been identified to have free radicals capture capacities, preventing damage to the skin caused by environmental pollution, smoke, sunlight and other harmful factors. The project will also test enzymes having potential uses in other industrial sectors, such as the food ingredients industry. Some enzymes can be used to produce food antioxidants, and may also have applications for cancer drugs.

Indeed, this is a future European potential market. In the recent years, this market has grown exponentially, driven largely by consumer demand for organic ingredients and greater awareness for avoiding harmful substances such as parabens. According to analysts, the global demand for natural cosmetics was over 5.8 billion euros in 2012 and is expected to reach an unbelievable 10.1 billion euros by 2018.

At the end of the project, a portfolio of new novel biocatalyst compounds will be developed, which will most likely include 50 fungal and 500 bacterial esterases (a special kind of enzyme), bringing the environmentally responsible production of natural cosmetic ingredients fully into the mainstream. The potential industrial benefits of this project are therefore huge.

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