Rhamnolipids are naturally occurring glycolipids produced commercially by the Pseudomonas aeruginosa species of bacteria. P. aeruginosa produces both mono-rhamnolipids and di-rhamnolipids. Many strains of P. aeruginosa can produce rhamnolipids both aerobically and in some cases by anaerobic fermentation. Rhamnolipids function as a natural surfactant, emulsifier, fungicide, and antibiotic.
Although discovered in 1947, these chemicals are just now beginning to find wide commercial application in a number of fields including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, petroleum production, and environmental cleanup.
In a famous example, rhamnolipids were used to clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in May 1989. Unfortunately, the cost of producing the rhamnolipids for bioremediation was too expensive and complicated for practical use … until now.
In pure form, rhamnolipids are a white powder when desiccated. Generally rhamnolipids are supplied and used in an aqueous solution. The solution may range from clear to milky white or tan in color, depending on concentration and purification. When used as a surfactant, only low concentrations are necessary.
As a natural “green”, non-carcinogenic product, rhamnolipids are just now beginning to be used to replace petroleum-based chemicals in cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, detergents, pharmaceuticals, agricultural sprays, etc. as those currently used petrochemicals are being phased out or banned.
See the additional pages for an overview of rhamnolipids, their discovery, history, properties, research, and applications.