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Reflecting on our recent work with Procter & Gamble

By Fiona Yip
Newcastle University and P&G Scientists together in the laboratory.

Jobs, innovative products and saving our environment all part of strategic partnership

We are proud of our track record of helping businesses to benefit from our world-leading research.

One of our strongest partnerships is with global consumer products giant, Procter & Gamble (P&G).

For more than 60 years, P&G have operated their Newcastle Innovation Centre. It is one of their Fabric and Home Care R&D sites developing major product lines including Ariel and Fairy.

In recent months our partnership has enjoyed several major successes.


Seaweed, slime and socks

Professor Grant Burgess and Dr Michael Hall's work has led to the inclusion of a new enzyme in Ariel laundry detergents.

Professor Burgess explains: “Ships accumulate high levels of slime and other organisms on their hulls and this leads to more resistance, higher fuel consumption and can cause corrosion.

“To combat this, we were keen to understand how marine organisms such as fish, dolphins and seaweed, for example, appear to have solved this fouling problem, as they are good at keeping themselves clean in the sea.

“The key was discovering that some seaweeds are actually covered in bacteria that can release cleaning compounds.

“While bacteria have the capacity to produce powerful adhesives to stick themselves to surfaces, they also produce an “anti-glue” – a phosphodiesterase – that can break up sticky molecules.

“The big surprise was that similar glues are present on dirty clothing where they bind difficult-to-remove body soils and odours to the fabric. This bacterial enzyme can break down these glues, and can therefore be used to keep our clothes clean as well, when introduced to laundry detergents."

Dr Michael Hall adds: “Phosphodiesterases are found everywhere - they are even naturally present on your skin. But what was so exciting about this phosphodiesterase was its resilience.  Most enzymes are quite fragile and are damaged by high temperatures, but this one was able to work in both hot and cold temperatures and still be highly effective."

Cold water cleaning

“Improving cleaning in cold water with more environmentally friendly products requires new breakthrough technology,” adds Dr Neil Lant, lead scientist in global enzyme technology at P&G and visiting lecturer at our University.

We have been able to develop this exciting seaweed based discovery into a new ingredient called Purezyme® in partnership with biotech supplier Novozymes. We’re delighted that the unique new enzyme is now helping our Ariel products achieve even deeper cleaning.”

Machine learning for improving products

The team at the National Innovation Centre for Data worked with P&G to create new predictive systems for capturing and processing customer insights. They helped them to better understand skills needed to develop such systems in-house.

Advancing the circular economy

We're delighted to be one of the launch partners for P&G's new Advancing the Circular Economy (ACE) Research and Development Demonstrator.

Focused on green technology and manufacturing, the ACE Demonstrator brings together entrepreneurs, universities, and big business to work on three priorities:

  1. identify new and more sustainable biotechnologies for everyday cleaning products
  2. find new ways to reduce domestic water consumption
  3. investigate the potential for a new green technology centre in our region

The ACE consortium brings together an impressive range of partners to tackle one of today’s greatest global challenges, the need for sustainable economic growth.

The ACE Demonstrator project will support the creation of 49 jobs and safeguard 40 others, while creating opportunities in STEM for students and teachers in schools across our region.

Regionally based. Global impact.

Our region has everything needed for success in the ACE field: major process industries and biotechnology businesses, smaller technology providers, leading universities and strong partnerships with UK Catapults - which are a network of world-leading technology centres designed to boost innovation and economic growth.


Ditch the delicate wash cycle to reduce plastics in the environment

Our research has shown that it is the volume of water used during the wash cycle, rather than the spinning action of the washing machine, which is the key factor in the release of plastic microfibres from clothes.

Working with P&G we measured the release of plastic microfibres from polyester clothing for a range of cycles and water volumes.

Millions of plastic microfibres are shed every time we wash clothes that contain materials such as nylon, polyester and acrylic. Because these fibres are so small, they drain out of our washing machines and can ultimately enter the marine environment.


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Counting the fibres released, the team found the higher the volume of water the more fibres released, regardless of the speed and abrasive forces of the washing machine. 

800,000 more fibres were released in a delicate wash than a standard cycle.

Newcastle University Press Office : Newcastle University has been ranked 11th in the world for its impact on society and leadership in sustainable development.

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Tags: One Planet, Working with Business