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Structure on Biodegradation Pathways of Nonionic

By Shell Chemical Company and L. Kravetz


The structure of the hydrophobe in alcohol ethoxylates (AE) and alkylphenol ethoxylates (APE) has a significant influence on the biodegradation pathways and biodegradation rates of these nonionic surfactants in bacterial inocula present in waste treatment plants. APE undergo initial microbial attack at the terminal part of the polyoxyethylene (POE) chain followed by a shortening of the POE chain to leave intermediates which are slower to biodegrade than intact APE. Ethoxylates of alcohols derived from propylene or butene oligomerization appear to degrade by a similar mechanistic pathway. In contrast, ethoxylates of alcohols derived from linear olefins undergo initial attack which results in scission of the linear alkyl chain from the polyoxyethylene chain with rapid biodegradation of the hydrophobe to C02 and H20 accompanied by slower degradation of the polyoxyethylene chain. The use of double radiolabeled nonionic surfactants has shed significant light on their biodegradation pathways by providing detailed information on degradation of the hydrophobic and hydrophilic moieties

Year: 2014
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