Science News 04/03/2013

Biomass for perfume, cosmetic, personal-care products

The scientists transform plant “essential oils”, substances with the characteristic fragrance of the plant, into high-value ingredients

The scientists transform plant “essential oils” — substances with the characteristic fragrance of the plant — into high-value ingredients for sunscreens, perfumes and other personal-care products. The approach also could open up new economic opportunities for tropical countries that grow such plants.

Based on a report by Deryn Fogg, Ph.D., Eduardo dos Santos, Ph.D., and colleagues in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a new approach for tapping biomass as a sustainable raw material.

Fogg explains that breaking down plant material into ingredients for making commercial products is getting much attention as a sustainable substitute for raw materials now obtained from petroleum. The researchers decided to test a different, complementary approach, which involves making substances found naturally in plants more complex. They do this in ways that form antioxidants and other components of cosmetics and perfumes. Current methods for making some of these ingredients from plants are time-consuming, costly and wasteful. That’s why the scientists turned to “metathesis” — the topic of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

They describe use of metathesis in the laboratory to transform compounds in essential oils into highly valuable personal-care product ingredients. “These methodologies offer the potential for economic expansion via the sustainable cultivation and elaboration of high-return source species in the tropical countries that represent the major producers of essential oils,” say the researchers.

di S. C.