ACS Green Chemistry Institute®

Optimized Biocatalysts for Green Cosmetics

Blog Post created by ACS Green Chemistry Institute® on Jun 23, 2015

Contributed by Annette Doerfel, Communications Manager OPTIBIOCAT, BIOCOM AG, Prof Vincenza Faraco, project Coordinator OPTIBIOCAT, University of Naples “Federico II”

When strolling the supermarket aisles, it becomes apparent that an increasing number of products bear labels such as “natural”, “organic” or “bio”. The demand for the ‘natural’ cosmetics market has shown incredible growth in recent years. However, this is just the beginning. Consumers have also developed a keen interest in knowing more about the way beauty products like lotions, make-up products and colors are made. Are the labels transparent enough? And does the processing of cosmetics demand excessive energy consumption? In future, the beauty industry will need to establish and demonstrate environment-friendly production processes and novel cosmetic ingredients with a lower eco-footprint. Satisfying this consumer demand will be a challenge for the beauty industry. This is where OPTIBIOCAT comes into place: The project, which is backed by around €7 million of EU funding under the FP7-program, aims to assist the cosmetics sector by equipping it with the knowledge required to introduce new eco-friendly processes based on optimized biocatalysts and the use of natural ingredients. This will help make industrial practices more sustainable and cost-effective.

OPTIBIOCAT: Bio-processes for lipsticks, liquids and lotions



The classic chemical cosmetic production to-date comes along with many side-effects such as the use of potentially hazardous catalysts and the release of unwanted residues or by-products. Antioxidants are being used in an increasing number of applications and their market is growing at a considerable rate. OPTIBIOCAT intends to make a difference here: the project aims to change the chemical production processes of antioxidants substituting these with biocatalysts driven processes. This will allow for lower-temperatures (50-60°C) compared to those of chemical processes (up to 160°C). High temperatures in current chemical techniques need a large amount of energy, making the process expensive as well as environmentally unsound. “The environmental footprint for the production of the identified antioxidants will be significantly reduced with our innovative biocatalysts,” says Professor Vincenza Faraco from the University of Naples "Federico II", who leads the OPTIBIOCAT consortium. “In addition, unwanted side reactions will be minimized, resulting in highly pure products that will allow for improved product quality and reduced process costs,“ says the project coordinator.


Novel compounds and enzymes for cleaner production processes and high-quality cosmetics


Workpackage-Organigramm.jpgThe main concept behind the project is the use of synthetic capabilities of the enzymes feruloyl esterases (FAEs) and glucuronoyl esterases (GEs) to produce antioxidants by enzymatic esterification. The global market for industrial enzymes was estimated at $3.3 billion in 2010, and is expected to reach $4.4 billion by 2015. OPTIBIOCAT aims at boosting the market for FAEs and GEs. Now in its second year, OPTIBIOCAT is still in its early stages, yet has uncovered a number of key products and results. Among these are 1,636 putative fungal FAEs, 166 putative fungal GEs and 500 putative bacterial FAE protein sequences identified by genome mining and gene model correction for 54 fungal candidate FAEs and 20 fungal candidate GEs, the production of 250 putative bacterial FAEs, the production and characterisation of 30 novel fungal candidate FAEs and 20 novel fungal candidate GEs. Some of these enzymes were selected for their outstanding properties and along with some biocatalysts, which are already available in the consortium, will be optimised in order to enhance yield and productivity of the reactions, generating the main seven antioxidants identified as targets within the project. Additionally, FAEs and GEs will be tested for production of other compounds with enhanced biological activity and desired properties for cosmetic applications. Following refinement of the enzymes, the fermentation and bioconversion processes will be scaled up, with the production of enzymes and compounds increasing from 1-20 litres; the ability of the newly developed biocatalysts to work in conditions that mimic industrial settings will be demonstrated in the project. Following this, the technological and economic viability of the up-scaled process, the environmental aspects of their industrial application, and the allergenic properties and safety of the antioxidant compounds will be assessed.


“The variety of tasks to be performed requires the involvement of a highly skilled partnership,” explains Faraco. Therefore, OPTIBIOCAT brings together a broad interdisciplinary team of researchers, academics and industry experts, with 16 partners from Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland covering the entire development process, from genome and microbial mining to application. The OPTIBIOCAT antioxidants will be tested by Greek natural cosmetics producer Korres.


Meet the OPTIBIOCAT consortium:


OPTIBIOCAT will organize a full-day per-conference workshop to EFIB 2015 in Brussels on the 27th October 2015. Scientists and industry experts will discuss new developments in enzyme overproduction and will especially put an emphasis on emerging technologies and focus on the practical aspects.


More information:




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