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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Unilever to Ditch Fossil Fuel-Based Ingredients for Computer-Designed Enzymes in Cleaning Products

A partnership with biotech company Arzeda will see the companies computer designing new enzymes with superior benefits to help clean up the cleaning industry.

Unilever and Arzeda — an industry-leading, Seattle-based Protein Design Company™ — have partnered to apply the latest advances in digital biology to discovering and designing new enzymes. Unilever plans to substitute the resulting technology into some of the world’s leading cleaning and laundry products — including OMO (Persil), Sunlight and Surf.

Enzymes are fundamental to the natural world, responsible for nearly all biological functions that take place on earth — from how plants and trees absorb CO2, to how we convert food to energy in our bodies. Enzymes have also long been a key ingredient in cleaning and laundry products — as they break down stains made from fat, oils and protein chains on our laundry and surfaces. To date, science has only scraped the surface of the benefits they could provide in our everyday lives. Unlocking their power could provide almost endless possibilities.

Arzeda partners with Fortune 500 companies and industrial leaders to develop healthy and sustainable products for the food & nutrition, advanced materials, and diagnostics & pharma industries globally.

Under the three-year partnership, Unilever will apply Arzeda’s proprietary digital biology techniques to its own product innovations across its cleaning and laundry portfolio. Arzeda learns from the vast number of enzymes already in nature, and uses smart technologies — a combination of physics-based computational protein design and deep learning, a form of AI — to optimize their functionalities. As well as exploring naturally occurring enzymes, Arzeda also designs diverse, new versions with unique benefits that would otherwise not have been possible.

The Evolution of Nature-Based Carbon Offsets

Learn more from South Pole, the Arbor Day Foundation, Justdiggit and Sustainable Surf about the exploding voluntary carbon market and the wide variety of nature-based carbon-offset schemes available — at SB'21 San Diego, October 18-21.

In this case, Arzeda and Unilever aim to optimize enzymes to replace ingredients with a high environmental footprint — virgin fossil fuels — commonly found in most cleaning and laundry products. Unilever has committed to eliminate virgin fossil fuels as a feedstock for the chemicals in its cleaning and laundry product formulations as part of its Clean Future strategy; enzymes — which are low carbon, naturally derived and deliver added performance benefits — will be critical to achieving this goal. The discovery and optimization of new enzymes in product formulations could result in up to 50 percent less ingredients required, while delivering superior cleaning benefits to the consumer.

“This partnership is an exciting step forward as we work to transform our cleaning and laundry business to be superior, sustainable and affordable to all,” said Unilever Home Care President Peter ter Kulve. “We look forward to working with Arzeda in developing a new generation of ultra-performing cleaning and laundry products with an environmental impact a fraction of the size of current products."

An impact beyond its business

In addition to being a potential game-changer for the sustainability of the cleaning and laundry industry, this partnership will encourage knowledge-sharing of previously undiscovered uses for enzymes that could solve wider consumer, industrial and environmental challenges across multiple sectors. Arzeda is already working with a number of global players on future-focused solutions to global societal and everyday problems — from the production of renewable chemicals to self-healing phone screens.

“We are delighted to work with Unilever to support their Clean Future ambition with enzymes that improve the environmental footprint of consumer products,” said Alexandre Zanghellini, CEO and founder of Arzeda. “Arzeda’s mission is to design and manufacture new proteins that improve health and sustainability, and we see this partnership as a key milestone to make this a reality in home care. Working with Unilever, we hope to create a new era for industrial enzymes that will contribute to a more sustainable world while improving consumer experience.”

Unilever joins a growing list of global players exploring and tweaking enzymes' potential to help solve some of our currently intractable problems — earlier this month, L’Oréal, Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo and Suntory Beverage & Food Europe unveiled the world’s first food-grade PET plastic bottles produced entirely from enzymatically recycled plastic. French biochemists Carbios adapted an enzyme naturally occurring in compost heaps that normally breaks down organic matter and optimized it to break down any kind of PET plastic into its building blocks, which can then be turned back into like-new, virgin-quality plastic — which could be an incredible tool in our global fight to rein in our plastic pollution.

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