Press release CBS-KNAW

Greener cosmetics: Innovating cosmetics production

22 May 2014

Satisfying the increasing consumer demand for natural and eco-friendly cosmetics will be a challenge for the beauty industry. The new EU-project OPTIBIOCAT aims to replace chemical techniques currently used for the production of cosmetics with energy-efficient and eco-friendly biocatalysts. 

OPTIBIOCAT is backed by €7 million of EU-funding and builds upon a highly interdisciplinary consortium of 16 partners from eight European countries. One of the partners is the Academy’s Fungal Biodiversity Centre.

Natural is ‘in’

When strolling the supermarket aisles, it becomes apparent that an increasing number of products bear labels such as ‘natural’, ‘organic’ or ‘bio’. The demand for such labelled commodities is particularly high in cosmetics: The ‘natural’ cosmetics market has shown incredible growth in recent years. According to analysts, the global demand for natural cosmetics was over €5.8 billion in 2012 and is expected to reach an incredible €10.1 billion by 2018. However this is just the beginning. Consumers have also developed a keen interest in knowing more about the way lotions, creams and lipsticks are made. In future, companies will need to establish and demonstrate environment-friendly production processes and novel cosmetic ingredients with a lower environmental footprint.


This is also the aim of the innovative project OPTIBIOCAT (‘Optimised esterase biocatalysts for cost-effective industrial production’), which is backed by around €7 million of EU funding under the FP7-programme. OPTIBIOCAT brings together a broad interdisciplinary team of researchers, academics and industry experts, with 16 partners from Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland covering the entire development process, from genome and microbial mining to application.


The new four-year project will replace resource and energy-intensive chemical processes currently used in the cosmetic industry through discovering and optimising novel enzymatic biocatalysts. Enzymes are cellular catalysts responsible for controlling thousands of reactions in the cell and increase the rate at which reactions occur. ‘The environmental footprint for the production will be significantly reduced with our innovative biocatalysts,’ says Vincenza Faraco from the University of Naples, who leads the OPTIBIOCAT consortium. ‘In addition, unwanted side reactions that usually cause product darkening or unpleasant odours will be avoided, resulting in highly pure products.’

The contribution of the Fungal Biodiversity Centre

The first challenge for OPTIBIOCAT is to find the right biocatalysts. Fungi are an important source of biocatalysts. The Fungal Biodiversity Centre’s main task in this project is to analyse fungi and their genomes in order to identify and test likely candidates. The Centre can draw on the expertise of its Fungal Physiology group regarding fungal enzymes and their applications.

Fungal Biodiversity Centre (CBS)

The Fungal Biodiversity Centre (CBS) is one of the Academy’s research institutes. It manages a world-famous collection of living fungi and yeasts. The Institute's research programmes principally focus on the taxonomy and evolution of selected species in the fungal kingdom. It also serves as a centre of expertise, advising on mycological problems of a scientific, medical, industrial or social nature. The institute employs approximately 90 staff. It is located at ‘De Uithof’ University Centre in Utrecht.