Energy and climate

Everyone who opens a newspaper or watches the news on television knows that ensuring the provision of adequate energy supplies will be a major challenge in the future. Closely connected with this are emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the threat of climate change. Henkel has always been aware of the relevance of these issues – not least in the context of production costs and the electricity bills of customers and consumers. The basis of our contribution to reducing the energy needed to wash laundry is the pioneering work in enzyme research that we have carried out since the 1970s. At that time, one third of laundered items were made of synthetic fabrics. New, colored textiles were steadily replacing the typical, usually white, natural fabrics washed at high temperatures. The new textiles could not be hot-washed, so laundry detergent manufacturers were faced with a problem: how to make sure that the fabrics would be washed thoroughly at lower temperatures. Conventional heavy-duty laundry detergents, however, were only really effective at high washing temperatures. Henkel identified the problem early on and launched Persil 70, a bioactive heavy-duty laundry detergent. With the help of  enzymes, Persil 70 was able to remove even stubborn protein stains at low washing temperatures.

The use of enzymes also made a major contribution toward saving energy. Lower washing temperatures reduced domestic energy consumption. In fact, electricity consumption per machine load has been halved since 1970, thereby decreasing carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 million metric tons in Germany alone. The high performance of modern laundry detergents at low washing temperatures would be unthinkable without the help of highly effective enzymes. Laundry used to be washed at 90 degrees Celsius. Persil now achieves the same level of cleanliness and removes stains better than ever at just 20 degrees Celsius.

Sustainability in laundry washing: Progress from 1978 to 2008

By continuously improving our laundry detergent formulations, we have been able to steadily reduce detergent dosages as well as water and energy consumption.

Enzyme research

The great effectiveness of modern laundry detergents would be unthinkable without the help of highly efficient enzymes. Enzymes are natural proteins that speed up biochemical reactions. They break down protein-based stains and dissolve grease. Enzymes also help to save energy when laundry is washed. This is because heating the water in the washing machine is the biggest factor in the energy balance of the washing process. We want to reduce this without compromising product performance. This is why we carry out continuous research aimed at developing new enzymes to achieve increasingly better washing performance while consuming less chemicals and less energy. We also continuously improve the biotechnological production of our enzymes. Temperature, oxygen and nutrients must be precisely controlled to ensure that the desired enzymes are produced in high quantities and with high quality. In one research project, we are therefore optimizing the organisms used to produce our enzymes. The objective is to significantly decrease the consumption of energy, water and raw materials during production.

Computer simulation: A laundry detergent enzyme (red) attacks the soil (yellow) on a textile fiber (gray).