Naturalness is now a must

Naturalness is no longer an option for consumers, whose ecological awareness and need for transparency are growing by the day. 68% of consumers say they would like to see more responsible perfumes, according to the Firmenich Hub Global Study conducted in 2021. Now, all perfume brands – and not just specialist niche brands – want to highlight their “green” ingredients. For example, in December 2023, the advertising campaign for Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Forte clearly featured the statement “More than 90% natural origin.”

And yet, natural ingredient extraction does not always rhyme with sustainability. On the one hand, conventional distillation processes for natural ingredients require water and high energy consumption in order to reach the temperature of 100°C required for condensation (the vapour takes the odorous components out of the plants). On the other hand, extraction with volatile solvents can be polluting. Therefore, perfume companies seek to give up on these two processes.

Air extraction to capture the scent of fresh flowers

At the end of 2023, the L’Oréal group announced an exclusive partnership with Cosmo International Fragrances to deploy a new approach to natural ingredient extraction based on green sciences. “Cosmo International Fragrance worked for five years to develop this new extraction process. It is a green innovation in that it is petrochemical- and heat-free. This slow technique involves capturing the volatile fragrant molecules using the air flow,” explains Alexandrine Demachy, Managing Director France of Cosmo International Fragrances.

Initially, this new technology was applied to tuberose, a legendary perfume flower. “The idea is to let the flower express itself. When you close your eyes, you are on the flower,” adds Alexandrine Demachy. “The partnership with L’Oréal’s Green Sciences department opens up new possibilities for us, in particular that of processing silent flowers, the grail of perfumers. It is also very rewarding for our research and development team.

This process differs from Head Space, which requires laboratory recreation after analyzing the olfactory spectrum of flowers in their natural environment. Here, picking is a necessary operation. “The advantage of our system is that it is very agile and mobile. We can process the flowers directly in the field to capture their volatile molecules. The flowers remain intact throughout the process, they can have a second life and be processed differently, offering a second olfactory profile. This way, no waste is generated,” points out Alexandrine Demachy. “Traditional processes still exist. We are not replacing these ingredients (essential oils, extracts, essences, etc.), because we do not capture the flower in its entirety, just its fragrance. On the other hand, we add a new product to the perfumer’s palette: the smell of the fresh plant characterized by its volatile molecules.

Minimizing water and energy consumption

Symrise, for its part, has been communicating since 2018 on the SymTrap process, which reduces the extraction carbon footprint, while recovering residues from the agri-food industry. These residues are mainly in the form of aqueous solutions (e.g. residual juice from fruit extraction). This upcycling model has a very low impact, because it is a cold process free from chemical solvents. SymTrap ingredients substitute natural fruity notes, which perfumers previously lacked, for synthetic molecules such as C14 aldehyde (for the scent of peach) or Laire Prunol base (for plum).

Since 2019, SymTrap vegetables (artichoke, asparagus, leek, cauliflower and onion) have been added, bringing new sharpness to the perfumer’s palette and opening up other creative perspectives. “Before the arrival of Symrise’s Garden Labs, we had to use our olfactory memory to recreate a scent close to the vegetable. So, this new collection of natural ingredients is very disruptive and rewarding,” says Alexandra Carlin, Perfumer at Symrise.

At dsm-firmenich, naturalness is also a key issue. The company promotes its Firgood technology, which works with electromagnetic vibrations, mainly using the water already contained in the biomass as the extraction vector. The benefits are diverse: lower water and energy consumption and reduced heat exposure time for the raw materials, which preserves the integrity of heat-sensitive olfactory molecules.

Firgood opens up new olfactory territories for perfumers, with different facets and premium profiles,” says Mélanie Verhille, Sustainable Perfumery Marketing & Communication Director / Sustainability Strategy at dsm-firmenich. Firgood also makes it possible to process new plants or silent flowers that have not yet been exploited in fine perfumery. These advances in impact reduction also have a concomitant effect: that of broadening the creative palette of perfumers.

In this quest for naturalness, virtuous methods combine to improve the environmental performance of the final fragrance. At dsm-firmenich, the Protopia base for fine perfumes combines an extract of Firgood Pear, several over-cycled materials (Geraniol 60 RC, Romandolide, a cedar of Virginia), and captive molecules obtained with biotechnology (Ambrox Super and Pulpanat).

A new generation of greener solvents

At the Fragrance Innovation Summit 2023, Robertet, an expert in natural ingredients, took stock of its CleanRScent programme launched ten years ago. This continuous improvement programme is aimed to develop green technologies and solvents with a high degree of biodegradability and recyclability.

This innovation is based on the use of Dimethyl Carbonate, an alternative solvent whose extraction performance is comparable to that of hexane, only without any impact on health, and with a low environmental footprint. “This process, which led to two patents, is now cost-effective on an industrial scale”, says Céline Louis Ughetto, Head of Product Management – F&F ingredients at Robertet Group. Today, the CleanRScent collection includes absolutes (Maté, Toasted Tonka Bean, Bourbon Vanilla) and a bleached cypress wood. These high-quality ingredients provide olfactory profiles that are very close to nature.

Reinventing enfleurage

Mane’s E-Pure Jungle Essences offer a responsible alternative to absolutes and are considered natural according to standard ISO 9235. They are based on perfume plants and flowers, using a process combining enfleurage in a first phase (with a neutral vegetable oil as a solvent) and supercritical CO2 extraction in a second phase. Mane’s E-Pure Jungle Essences are extremely faithful to what nature offers and are intended for the fine perfume industry.

Used in a second stage, supercritical CO2 extraction requires the temperature to be reduced to as low as 30°C in order to bring the carbon dioxide to a liquid state. What’s more, once depressurized, this alternative medium leaves no residual elements. It should be noted that CO2 can be obtained by recovering organic waste, in particular during methanization processes, which themselves generate green energy.

For its part, Maison Lautier 1795 – which brings together Symrise’s collections of perfume ingredients – provided insights on the enfleurage processes it has been testing since 2020 at various production sites, using locally-produced fats such as cocoa butter and jojoba oil. The results are also very convincing in terms of the aromatic spectrum and quality of the extracts.

Responsible sourcing supported by AI

Beyond responsible sourcing, which is aimed to preserving both the lives of farming communities and biodiversity, environmental concerns also relate to the increasing scarcity of natural resources. At the end of 2023, Grasse-based Robertet became the first perfume group to install a BioPod designed by the start-up Interstellar Lab. The aim of this AI-managed greenhouse is to grow crops with a high added-value using the least resources possible, while generating a reduced carbon footprint. The Interstellar Lab start-up has since joined the L’Oréal Green Sciences Incubator programme as part of the L’Oréal for the Future programme.

Advances in biotechnology

Biotechnology is also one of the avenues being explored by perfume companies to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Fermentation using enzymes, natural proteins or other micro-organisms can be an effective replacement for chemical reagents.

In 2019, Givaudan announced a new technique based on the fermentation of organic cane sugar to produce Ambrofix, a fully biodegradable alternative to ambergris. This product, in which all carbon atoms in the base material are recombined in the final product molecules, generates no carbon waste or pollutants. It is in line with the company’s FiveCarbon Path vision.

For its part, Takasago is doing white biotechnology research based on the living world. Biocyclamol is produced from fully renewable resources and is biodegradable. This new ingredient has a tenacious floral note similar to that of lily of the valley, both pure and abstract.

At the end of the day, we are all trying to be more sustainable in our approaches, products and raw materials", says Alexandrine Demachy. “As manufacturers, we all need to advance our research on natural products and synthesis. We need to challenge ourselves. We all have the same brief (less solvents, less energy, etc.). Everyone, whether in industry or research, interprets this brief in their own way, with their own ideas and discoveries, and all solutions are complementary. The products released are all different, and that is to the benefit of perfumers, who have an ever-larger choice for their compositions.

This article was published in our special issue Fragrance Innovation, to read here.