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Surfactants in Industry

Surfactants are often used in in consumer product formulations (hair care, bath products, creams, lotions) and cleaning formulations (detergent, fabric softener, industrial & institutional).

SurfactantsFormulation chemistry is one of the disparities in the chemistry industry. There are many jobs, but extremely few degree programs that adequately train students for a formulation position. As a result, most formulation chemists are either self taught or have in essence been apprenticed under experienced researchers.

Simply put formulation is the mixing of compounds which do not react in order to get a mixture with the desired characteristics. Examples of formulations are adhesives, paints, inks, cosmetics, detergents and many pharmaceutical products. This is product development work that is very focused on the characteristics needed for a product to be profitable.

Even though there are no chemical reactions involved, there are many aspects of chemistry present in a formulation. Some of the chemistry involved is thermodynamics of mixing, phase equilibria, solutions, surface chemistry, colloids, emulsions and suspensions. Even more important is how these principles are connected to adhesion, weather resistance, texture, shelf life, biodegradability, allergenic response and many other properties.


Santuna Bhattacharya and Yamuna Krishnan-Ghosh found that N-lauroyl-L-alanine selectively gelates aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons and other non-polar organic solvents, suspended in water (Chem. Commun. 185 (2001)). In experiments, where the gelator was solubilized either by heating or in ethanol, the oil layer gelated completely by cooling to room temperature.  A summary in Chem. Eng. News, Jan.29, 2001, page 12, suggest that this discovery may offer intriguing clean-up possibilities for oil spills, such as caused two weeks ago by Jessica, the Ecuadorian Tanker that spilled 200,000 gal of diesel oil in the Galapagos Islands. Ben Feringa of Groningen University sees appllications in Reaction and separation technology.