What is it about certain surfactants – the key cleaning chemicals in detergents – that make them so attracted to water and fats? Or, in scientific terms, how do we better understand the connection between molecular structure and the relative hydrophilic-lipophilic nature of a surfactant?
Scientists Charles E. Hammond and Edgar Acosta’s research into this complex topic was recognized as the best paper published in 2012 in the Journal of Surfactants & Detergents. The Distinguished Paper Award is an annual honor presented by the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) at the Annual Meeting of the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS).
To better describe the work of surfactants: one end of the surfactant molecule (the lipophilic or oil-loving end) penetrates oily soils, while the opposite end of the molecule (the hydrophilic or water-loving end) solubilizes the oils. This action loosens soils and disperses them in the water.
The work of Drs. Hammond and Acosta showed how a surfactant can be altered in a way to disperse more efficiently while increasing its cleaning performance.
“The structure-property relationship presented in this work will help detergent makers facilitate the design of surfactants or surfactant mixtures, better manage feedstocks, and help determine how to compensate for feedstock variability, especially when using sustainable feedstock sources,” Dr. Hammond said.
Dr. Hammond is IOR Fellow and Operations Manager at CESI Chemical, a Flotek Company (this research was performed while he was at Sasol North America). Dr. Acosta is an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry.
This paper, “On the Characteristic Curvature of Alkyl-Polypropylene Oxide Sulfate Extended Surfactants,” was published in the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents, Volume 15, Number 2 (March 2012) p. 155-165.  The abstract is available here.
The ACI Best Paper Award was presented at the AOCS 2013 Annual Meeting & Expo in Montreal, Canada.