University’s chemists enable Unilever to improve household products

Paul Duhaney

Cleaning products

Unilever is working with the University of Liverpool to improve the effectiveness and sustainability of its household products, including bleach and toothpaste.

The University’s £9.6 million Centre for Materials Discovery enables industries to move rapidly into the next generation of manufacturing novel materials. Its high-throughput technology accelerates research by enabling scientists to produce and test large numbers of new materials in parallel.

Unilever is developing new polymers – large molecules of repeating units – with improved properties in a wide range of home and personal care products. The new materials have enabled Unilever to improve the structure, feel and flow of products as well as their ability to bind to surfaces.

Glyn Roberts, Unilever Director for Structured Materials, said: “We aim to double the size of our business while reducing our overall environmental impact so identifying new materials which are both highly effective and sustainably sourced is crucial. Improving the way a product looks, feels and performs is key to how consumers view their experience of using it.”

A number of components in all home and personal care products are derived from non-sustainable sources. Companies are increasingly looking to develop more sustainable alternatives which have similar or enhanced properties and the technology available at the University make it well-placed to support Unilever.

The innovative robotic platforms within the Centre for Materials Discovery are provided by Chemspeed Technologies and allow the automation of polymer synthesis – the development of new materials from their component parts – as well as analysis to check the structure and purity of the material and the formulation of prototype products.  These capabilities allow libraries of materials to be made and studied much more rapidly than has been possible in the past. 

The Centre opened in 2006, following investment from the University, the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA), and Merseyside European Objective One funding. Unilever has been working with the University on the optimisation of household products since the Centre opened and has now agreed to extend the collaboration until 2017.                                                 

Jon Hague, Unilever Vice-President for Open Innovation, said: “The University has enabled a transformation in the way Unilever approaches a traditional and established field such as chemistry, enabling a dramatic uptick in speed and quality of output. The success of this partnership has been instrumental in boosting our innovation funnel and so we are delighted to be extending our collaboration with Liverpool.”

Professor Andy Cooper, Director of the Centre for Materials Discovery, said: “Enabling companies like Unilever to develop new materials and improve products is exactly what the Centre was set up to achieve. I’m delighted that our strong relationships with Unilever and Chemspeed are enabling real innovation in materials discovery.”

Leave a comment