Researchers at University of Minnesota discover "perfect soap" molecule

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(NBC NEWS) - Soap is something we use every day. Now researchers at the University of Minnesota say they've found the perfect soap molecule. This could change your cleaning supplies and possibly save you money in the future.

Soap that's more environmentally-friendly: that's what researchers at the University of Minnesota say could be the result of their discovery that's being dubbed "the perfect soap molecule."

Most molecules tend to look pretty up close, but this is something more.

"Perfect" is not a term Paul Dauenhauer and the research team at the University of Minnesota use often, but after three years perfecting it, they have a patent to prove it.

"These are called oleo-furan-surfactants, you'll see that on an ingredients list hopefully sometime in the near future," said Dauenhauer.

While not a household name, it could pop up in household products in two to three years, thanks to its potential to lower prices.

"What's great about this molecule is that you need very little of it to actually form the soap particles that are good for cleaning. So less soap. Less soap, but there's another attribute too. If you use a normal soap in hard water it will turn gooey, like it's hard to get out of your hair. With our molecule it actually works in hard water," he explained.

Here's another cool thing: most of the shampoos and cleaning products we use have a long list of ingredients, but if you add these molecules can do a lot of jobs, meaning if you add them,
they could take many ingredients away.

"Fewer chemicals in your products in smaller amounts means less that goes down the drain, which is always better for the environment," said Dauenhauer.

Speaking of the environment, the molecules are made from corn. and other renewable feed stocks.

"For this particular one it's palm oil and sugars from corn," he said.

The stock is formed into that new molecule in reactors with the help of a catalyst also developed at the University of Minnesota.

"We make the feed stocks here. We invented the catalysts at Minnesota, and now the soap is invented here at Minnesota," said Dauenhauer.

Call it a perfect combination.

Another University of Minnesota alum is now marketing the soap molecule for use in a number of different cleaning products. They hope to have it in several products in the next two to three years.

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