Consumer goods

Consumer goods

For cosmetics, washing agents and home appliances: bio-based processes find application in manufacture of a great number and variety of products used in everyday life. These processes make an important contribution to greater sustainability in industry and enable innovative products with novel properties for the consumer.


No. of companies:
no data

no data

€203 billion

(Source: IBH Retail Consultants/2012 (FMCG))


Examples of bioeconomy:
Bio-based tensides, bioac tive
constituents for cosmetics


In the consumer goods industry, it is obvious that bioeconomy has long since found its way into daily life. Not only for long-life purchases such as appliances, but also for quickly consumed products such as washing agents, toothpaste and body care cream – natural raw materials are in demand in many areas, and bio-based processes are widely used in industrial production. Every year in Germany, the average household spends around 26,000 euros for private consumer goods. In addition to clothing and food, body care and cosmetics are among the areas with leading sales. In Germany in 2012, approximately 13 billion euros in sales was earned with these products – with around 4 billion euros additionally spent in the areas of washing and cleaning agents. This amounts to per capita spending of 53 euros for Germany.



Tensides from regenerative raw materials

In these two sub-segments of the consumer-goods industry today, the application of bio-based processes is already relatively great. About 40 % of the constituents in the 600,000 tons annually produced are completely or partially bio-based. This includes tensides, alcoholic solvents and citrates. Production of citrates today is already completely bio-based, with the aid of molasses – a waste product from the production of sugar from sugar cane. In 2011 the share of bio-based and mixed tensides was 72 %, for which plant oils and animal fats are primarily used. Moreover, work carried out here includes efforts by the chemical group BASF – funded by the BMBF – to develop innovative biotensides manufactured with the aid of microbes. Production of alcoholic solvents used for cosmetics is around 30,000 tons yearly, of which 100 % is bio-based. The share for washing and cleaning agents is 50 %. Sugar and starch plants serve as raw-material basis for production of these alcohols, whereby sugar beets with 50 % represent the greatest single resource. Funded by the BMEL, BASF has for example developed a process to use the dianhydro sugar alcohol isosorbide, obtained from starch, in washing and cleaning agents.

Bioactive molecules in body-care cream

For some good years now, manufacturers of body-care products have resorted to special bioactive constituents – and thereby meet growing demand for natural cosmetics. According to current consumer analyses, 31 % of Germans approve the absence of chemical additives from body-care products, and welcome their production on a natural basis. For more than 30 years, lipid-replenishing natural substances such as ceramide, vitamins such as folic acid and special enzymes such as Q10 have been contained in cosmetics and body-care products. To make them available for industrial application, it was necessary to develop their production with the aid of biological mini-factories such as cells and bacteria, which produce the respective substances in large steel vessels. These processes, also called fermentation, have become widely established today as standard in the cosmetics sector. The enzyme Q10, for example, was still extracted from bovine hearts in the 1970s: with a price of 1,000 US dollars for one gram of the enzyme. Production in yeast by fermentation caused the price to fall to only a fraction. Today, Q10 is also found in affordable cosmetics. The alliance NatLifE 2020 – funded by the BMBF and directed by the biotech enterprise Brain AG, in turn a shareholder in the cosmetics company Monteil – counts on completely new technologies for the development of bioactive substances for cosmetics. The cosmetics industry, furthermore, is concentrating on new approaches that retard the process of skin ageing.

The first types of toothpaste are now available with probiotic microorganisms. The Berlin biotech company Organobalance has developed a process that allows the use of natural lactic acid bacteria. These bacteria, integrated in the toothpaste, attach themselves to caries pathogens in the mouth, where they agglutinate and can be easily rinsed away by tooth brushing. These probiotic microorganisms help to remove caries pathogens better than conventional products. The natural microorganisms of the species Lactobacillus casei are manufactured according to the standards of the food and beverage industry and therefore satisfy strict requirements for safety and tolerance. After production, they are stabilized, dried and added to a prepared toothpaste mass.

Natural cleaning aids

Bio-based processes have likewise become routine in the cleaning sector, in the production of additional active-cleaning, natural-based substances besides tensides. Here as well, enzymes – biocatalysts produced with the aid of microbes – have by now become the option of choice. The largest market share of industrial enzymes, 40 %, is used in the cleaning and washing segment of the consumer goods industry. By virtue of their many years of application in washing machine agents, these natural helpers have already made an essential contribution toward rendering washing machine cycles more environmentally benign – after many years of excessive consumption of energy and water. Unlike chemical molecules, enzymes frequently become active at mild temperatures. We can also thank them for enabling a reduction in average clothes-washing temperature, down to 46 °C now – in 1972 this temperature was at 63 °C. Today, only about 7 % of all washing takes place at 90 °C – whereas it was still around 40 % more than 40 years ago. At the same time, the use of biocatalysts has enhanced the efficiency of cleaning agents: years ago, 220 g was necessary for 5 kg of washing; now, 75 g suffices. According to the German Cosmetic, Toiletry, Perfumery and Detergent Association (IKW), in 2010 almost 6,000 tons of enzymes was produced annually as constituents of washing and cleaning agents, up from less than 3,600 tons in 1994. By the same token, 80 % of all washing agents today contain proteases: these are enzymes that degrade protein molecules. This property makes them highly effective in removing stains consisting of blood, cocoa or egg. Work funded by the BMBF succeeded several years ago in disclosing a protease that is particularly cold-active and that can remove stubborn chocolate stains even at 20 °C.

Source: German Cosmetic, Toiletry, Perfumery and Detergent Association (IKW)

Enzymes (in tons) used as ingredients in detergents and cleaning products

Nach Angaben des Industrieverbandes Körperpflege und Waschmittel e.V. wurden im Jahr 2012 knapp 6.5000 Tonnen Enzyme als Inhaltsstoffe für Wasch- und Reinigungsmittel hergestellt, 1994 waren es 3.600 Tonnen (ikw). So enthalten 80% aller Waschmittel heutzutage sogenannte Proteasen. Hierbei handelt es sich um Enzyme, die Eiweißmoleküle abbauen können. Diese Eigenschaft eignet sich bestens zum Entfernen von Flecken, die aus Blut, Kakao oder Ei bestehen. Gefördert vom BMBF wurde hier vor einigen Jahren eine Protease gefunden, die besonders kälteaktiv ist und hartnäckige Schokoladenreste auch bei 20°C entfernt.

Bioplastics in everyday life

Around 14 million tons of packaging material is produced annually in Germany, with approximately 40 % – around 5.5 million tons – consisting of plastics. This packaging material is so popular because it keeps packaged goods clean and fresh, weighs little and can be shaped into almost any required form. Plastics, however, are primarily made from a raw material that is diminishing: petroleum. Bio-based alternatives have therefore become increasingly interesting – also for the manufacturers of large domestic appliances, smaller appliances and domestic heaters. According to data from the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (ZVEI), around 12,700 companies in this area achieved sales of almost 8 billion euros in 2012. Since styling, material and energy efficiency are gaining in importance as purchase criteria, also for small appliances, manufacturers are increasingly turning to bio-plastics, which are being offered in increasing diversity by the chemical industry (see section “Chemistry”). One of the greatest challenges here is proper handling of the materials during production. With regard to their heat stability and their fire behaviour, they may exhibit properties that must be considered for their application in technical facilities. With funding by BMEL, the company Efbe Haushaltgeräte GmbH has developed a new injection moulding process for biopolymers reinforced by natural fibres. These innovative materials are designed for casing parts in hair dryers and are now available for sale – but at prices still higher than for conventional materials. Bio-based casings for toasters, water boilers and coffee machines are likewise already being tested.

Bioplastics have by now found good sales opportunities on the beverage market – with US manufacturers strongly pushing so-called plant bottles. Until now such producers consumed around 20 million barrels of oil annually to manufacture plastic bottles. These bottles typically consist of the plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which in turn is composed of two components: terephthalic acid (PTA, 70 %) and monoethylene glycol (MEG, 30 %). It is already now possible to produce monoethylene glycol from bio-based alcohol obtained from natural resources such as sugar cane. This production saves around 20 % of carbon dioxide emissions in comparison to petroleum-based processes. The objective here is to produce terephthalic acid, the main component of PET, from biological raw materials: a goal set for 2020. There are no differences in chemical characteristics between conventional and bio-based PET; only the raw materials sources are different. Bio-based PET is therefore a typical drop-in solution, for which production can be converted from petrochemical to natural sources without further adaptation (see section “Chemistry”).

Plastic shopping bags, children’s toys, ballpoint pens and catering cutlery: bioplastics are found today in many and various products.

Geschirr aus Bioplastik
Algae for the cosmetics industry

Algae contain numerous natural constituents that are interesting for the cosmetics industry. Plant researchers, for example, have discovered freshwater algae that have adapted to extreme habitat conditions: snow algae, which thrive in the cold. They can be used to produce an extensive palette of pigments, vitamins and antioxidants that can be used in the cosmetics and food industries. Researchers from the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft have assembled a species catalogue – the Culture Collection of Cryophilic Algae – CCCryo – with 370 isolates and 125 species. This collection is a freely accessible bioresource. For a number of years now, an industrial collaborative has produced snow algae strains for application in cosmetics, in photobioreactors especially developed for this purpose at the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering.