British researchers have developed a new and more sustainable way to produce zinc oxide, a key ingredient in many high-end health and beauty products, such as sunscreens. The new technique has the potential to revolutionize the raw materials industry.
Many high-end personal care products, such as moisturizers, shampoos, soaps, and sunscreens, are made with zinc oxide, as they appeal to consumers who want to avoid chemicals.
However, the cost of these products puts them out of reach for most; And as such, the majority of people around the world opt for cheaper products, many of which contain chemicals that are enormously harmful to the environment.
In the case of sunscreens, the cheapest products often contain chemicals that have a devastating impact on marine life, such as coral bleaching. High-end products, although they do not contain chemicals that harm marine life, are still harmful to the environment, as the current method of producing zinc oxide requires a large amount of energy.
Lead researcher Dr Kyra Sedransk Campbell, University of Sheffield, said: “The reality is that existing chemical-based sunscreens are damaging our fragile marine ecosystems, effectively killing coral reefs.
“Bans are already being implemented, but not fast enough. While zinc oxide is a well-known alternative, it was in fact the original UV blocker, it is currently a high-end option that you might have a hard time finding at your local pharmacy.
“The challenge is cost without sacrificing consumer expectations. The new process we have developed has the potential to reach those points and more. Our process is a sustainable, environmentally friendly and low energy method that can produce zinc oxide. In addition, we are competitive in costs. Together, it’s about using our knowledge in the laboratory to protect our planet. “
A new way to make zinc oxide
Zinc oxide is produced in two ways. First, en masse, using energy-intensive processes to create generic materials. Second, the use of specialized, smaller-scale manufacturing that creates specific materials at a high cost and a large environmental footprint. There is a £ 4bn ($ 5.6bn) zinc oxide market that continues to grow due to its ubiquity in products ranging from personal care products to batteries, tires and sensors.
The research team, from the University of Sheffield and Imperial College London, has discovered a new way to produce zinc oxide particles using much less energy and a flexible manufacturing method that can allow the production of a wide range of types. of particles. This is very unusual for a wet chemistry method where the analysis is performed in the liquid phase.
The team has now launched a spin-out company to commercialize the technique; The company’s first goal is to develop the active ingredient to make an affordable and safe sunscreen for reefs. The startup Nanomox is looking for an industrial partner to help bring the product to market. That’s hopeful news for coral reefs and the planet, indeed.
Fountain: Sheffield University
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