Question: What are some common ingredients in biobased products and why do they work?

  • Citric Acid descaling agent/builder
  • Xanthan Gum adds viscosity to formulas
  • Alkyl polyglycoside - detergent, degreasing agent, foamer
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate - detergent, degreasing agent, foamer
  • Methyl Soyate - strong solvent for tar, inks and grease
  • Soybean oil methyl esters - strong solvent for tar, inks and grease
  • Ethyl lactate - strong solvent for oil, inks and grease
  • Stearic acid - precursor for soap, and builds viscosity
  • Glycerin - keeps moisture in skin, adds lubricity
  • Cocoamidopropyl sultaine - detergent, degreasing agent, foamer
  • Lactic Acid - descaling agent/builder

These renewable items provide products that are environmentally safer, increase rural economic development, foster domestic production of our resources and reduce U.S. dependency on imported products.

— Rebecca S. Kaufold, chemist, Spartan Chemical Co., Inc., Maumee, Ohio.


Food grade orange oil, soy, ionized water and other botanical based additives are examples of common cleaning product ingredients.

— Brent Crawford, president, Core Products Co., Canton, Texas.


We continue to use many biobased materials to innovate and create products that perform well while being as safe as possible and having excellent environmental profiles.

It's important to remember, however, that biobased does not mean better. We've seen from the biofuel debate that powering cars from crops can have significant environmental burdens and economic impacts. Growing crops for chemical feedstocks requires pesticides, solvents, tractors, etc. There are global foodshortages today and we need to be wise with our decision to switch from petroleum to biobased feedstocks. Our position is to use the best science available to guide our decisions. There are no "free lunches" in nature.

Dan Daggett, Ph.D., manager, Corporate Sustainability, Diversey Inc., Sturtevant, Wis.


Bio-enzymatic products can be used for washroom, general-purpose and carpet cleaners, degreasers, general and specialty odor eliminators, drain and grease trap maintainers, urinal blocks, and septic line treatments. Bio-enzymatic products products work in the following manner: these good pathogens multiply and grow in numbers while they eat, thereby removing soils and odors economically and rapidly, and converting these wastes into carbon dioxide and water. Over time, surfaces and grout get a deeper level of clean as these microorganisms work long after application for up to 80 hours after being applied and continue to clean these hard to reach places that traditional cleaners alone miss. In addition, these cleaners are very effective in cost and performance both short- and long-term.

A second category of biobased products rely on using renewable resources such as soy, ethanol from corn, etc. By using the USDA Bio-Preferred Program, products are independently tested for carbon content and proven to meet the USDA Program (they can also be certified green by EcoLogo and or Green Seal). Product examples include soy hand cleaner (rather than relying on a d'limone), spray and wipe cleaner and more.

— Mike Sawchuk, vice president, Enviro-Solutions/Charlotte Products, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.


Question: What is the difference between green and biobased chemicals?

"Green" is a fuzzy term that can mean a lot of different things. Sometimes it relates to human toxicity. Sometimes it relates to biodegradability or aquatic toxicity ... products that prevent waste. And it could just mean products that have been certified by a third party.

Biobased chemicals, however, are pretty well defined by the U.S. government. Chemicals that are derived from plant or animal feedstock are typically considered biobased chemicals. Just because something is biobased doesn't make it green. Chemicals from plants or animals can be toxic. Some chemicals can be derived from either plants or petroleum, but they are the same exact molecule. Further, some chemicals are made by combining petroleum and biobased components into one material.

Dan Daggett, Ph.D., manager, Corporate Sustainability, Diversey Inc., Sturtevant, Wis.


Green chemicals are those with reduced human health and environmental impact. Biobased chemicals are those derived from renewable (non-petroleum) based sources (plants and animals). Some green chemicals are biobased and some are not. Some biobased chemicals are green and some are not. This is a distinct case where a third party green certification will help determine the appropriate trade off.

Rebecca S. Kaufold, chemist, Spartan Chemical Co., Inc., Maumee, Ohio.


The definitions in some ways are synonymous; however, some bio-based products may not really be green. The key: All green chemicals are not necessarily biobased and all biobased products are not necessarily green.

According to the USDA, "biobased products are commercial or industrial products (other than food or feed) that are composed in whole, or in significant part, of biological products, renewable agricultural materials (including plant, animal, and marine materials), or forestry materials as per the 2002 Farm Bill. The 2008 Farm Bill extended the definition of biobased products to include biobased intermediate ingredients or feedstocks."

Many product manufacturers might conclude that just water added to a product composition may be considered a "biological/renewable material."

According to the USDA Biobased program, "a product must be comprised of at least 25 percent biological, renewable agricultural materials to be considered and listed on their database."

— Brent Crawford, president, Core Products Co., Canton, Texas.


Green should be certified green. That then can include traditional products like floor finishes and strippers, or biobased products. The key is that not necessarily are all products green certified are biobased and not all biobased products are green certified. That is why the key is to ensure that all products, regardless of base, be certified green. Lastly, for biobased, that group can be sub-divided into bio-enzymatic ( bacteria and enzymes) or bio-renewable ingredients (ethanol from corn, soy as a solvent, etc.).

— Mike Sawchuk, vice president, Enviro-Solutions/Charlotte Products, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.