Unilever is investing millions in seaweed: the FMCG producer is developing cleaning agents with algae and wants to use them to create self-cleaning surfaces. The creator of products such as Cif and Dove believes it to be a promising market.
Dirt doesn't stick
Are we going to clean with seaweed soon? With this in mind, Unilever is entering into a joint venture with investment group Innova Partnerships. Together they want to market Lactam, a biotechnology that prevents dirt and microbes from adhering to surfaces thanks to seaweed. "Layers of biofilm cannot form on seaweed. It is always clean because it has developed its own defence mechanism," explains Vice-President Jonathan Hague to the Financial Times.
Since buying the technology at an early stage ten years ago, Unilever already spent around 8 million pounds (8.85 million euros) on development. Now, the first consumer trials are coming up. "If you use this technology regularly in the bathroom, black mould on the tiles just would not grow," said Hague. "Your surface would be visibly and demonstrably cleaner.
Shoes that never smell
But the potential of seaweed exceeds the consumer market by far, Hague thinks. Unilever forms the joint venture precisely to be able to license the technology in the potentially "much larger" business-to-business market. The product creates self-cleaning surfaces, which could be used for odourless shoes or ever-clean banknotes, for example. Currently, there are also discussions regarding dental applications.
Unilever even sees sustainable opportunities. For example, if no dirt would adhere to a ship's hull, the ship experiences less resistance and would emit less. "If we could manage to get Lactam on every ship's hull around the world, you could save about ten per cent of fuel emissions," is said.