Japan's Kao Corp. eyes algae-based shampoo



Japanese household goods maker Kao Corp. may soon be using algae to produce cleansing agents for its products, specifically shampoo, local media reported on Sunday.

Kao found two types of algae among 1,200 or so species in its research into more sustainable raw materials for its products, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

The algae in question contains medium-chain fatty acids that are similar in structure to those of palm kernel oil, which is used as a raw material for surfactants, the main component in shampoo.

Surfactants, or surface-active agents, have the ability to remove dirt. Surfactants that Kao uses are produced from particular types of medium-chain fatty acid.

Kao presented the findings at an academic meeting related to fats and oils in Sapporo on Sept. 9.

As palm kernel oil is extracted from oil palm seeds, concerns have been raised about deforestation for the purpose of planting palm trees, especially in Southeast Asian countries.

Palm fruits are also used as a food source.

In response, Kao has been seeking alternative materials for producing surfactants, which used to be made from petroleum prior to palm kernel oil.

"We had been working on switching from petroleum-based materials to natural materials," said a Kao spokesperson. "But we now want to focus on non-edible materials to promote a more sustainable society."

Going forward, Kao will research cost-effective means of producing large amounts of surfactants. This will involve experimenting with how to increase the amount of algae while effectively extracting medium-chain fatty acids.

The company aims to finish the basic research by 2020, after which it will take steps toward commercializing algae-based products such as shampoo.