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Ingredient Innovation: Inspired by Nature

By: Sara Mason
Posted: March 2, 2012, from the March 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Not only does nature survive, even thrive, it meets challenges without poisoning its environment. “Sustainability is the idea that we can have a modern society that fits into nature,” says Dorfman. Nature has to find, manufacture and dispose of its resources in the same place. It’s the ideal source for functional, nontoxic solutions.

One example outside the beauty industry is Columbia Forest Products. The company was having a problem with composite wood products. The glue being used was off-gassing formaldehyde, impacting air quality and making people sick from the fumes. Looking to nature for answers, one scientist studied how blue mussels stick themselves to rock. Eventually, they were able to develop a benign, waterproof adhesive based on soy protein.

The lesson, according to Dorfman, is that they looked at the chemical structure and formula of the adhesive and mimicked the chemistry with the soy protein. “They learned the recipe and adapted it to make something effective and nontoxic without wasting resources by harvesting the blue mussel itself,” he explains. “Nature is a good source for inspiring innovative and effective solutions to our toxic chemical challenges.” In some cases, the result can be an even purer product for the end consumer.

To address the issue of toxic heavy metals or toxic organic compounds associated with some pigments, EMD Chemicals, a division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, has introduced synthetic mica pigments in several colors and has another seven coming this year. The pigments are reproductions, using synthetic fluorphlogopite and iron oxides. As they are made synthetically and not mined, these affordable pigments have a very low heavy metal content, providing a cleaner and whiter base for pigments.

Phil Linz, EMD’s applications supervisor, is impressed by how quickly the company is moving on the idea. “Both EMD and our parent company are committed to this concept,” he says. Natural pigments have impurities and heavy metals such as iron oxides that dull the mica. “We get our material from a number of mines around the world. If we could increase reproducibility, our customers would appreciate that in the long run,” Linz notes.