Critical evaluation of the performance of rhamnolipids as surfactants for (phyto)extraction of Cd, Cu, Fe, Pb and Zn from copper smelter-affected soil

Anna Parus*, Tomasz Ciesielski, Marta Woźniak-Karczewska, Łukasz Ławniczak, Michał Janeda, Mariusz Ślachciński, Dominika Radzikowska-Kujawska, Mikołaj Owsianiak, Roman Marecik, Andreas P. Loibner, Hermann J. Heipieper, Łukasz Chrzanowski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Rhamnolipids are biosurfactants produced by bacteria belonging to the Pseudomonas genus. They are discussed to complex heavy metal cations stronger than cations of Fe, Ca, Mg. It is therefore suggested to employ rhamnolipids in phytoextraction where their addition to soil should result in preferential complexation of heavy metals that can be taken up by plants, thus enabling rapid and ecological clean-up of contaminated soil. In order to test this concept, we evaluated the rhamnolipid-mediated phytoextraction of heavy metal from soil collected from the vicinity of a copper smelter. The following aspects were investigated: i) selectivity of rhamnolipids towards Cu, Zn, Pb, Cd and Fe during soil washing; ii) phytoextraction efficiency of each ion with respect to the effective concentration of rhamnolipids; iii) possible phytotoxic effects; iv) effect of micro-sized polystyrene amendment. The experiments evaluated soil washing efficiency, BCR (Community Bureau of Reference) sequential extraction to determine the impact of rhamnolipids on the mobility of metal ions, phytoextraction with maize (Zea mays L.) and phytotoxic effects based on dry matter, chlorophyll fluorescence and content. The obtained results indicated that rhamnolipids lack desired selectivity towards heavy metal ions as Fe was complexed more efficiently by 80 % of the available rhamnolipids compared to priority pollutants like Zn, Cu, Pb, which were complexed by only 20 % of the tested rhamnolipids. With increased concentration of rhamnolipids, the soil washing efficiency increased and shifted in favour of Fe, reaching values of approx. 469 mg for Fe and only 118 mg in total of all tested heavy metals. Phytoextraction also favoured the accumulation of Fe, while Cd was not removed from the soil even at the highest applied rhamnolipid concentrations. Considering the selectivity of rhamnolipids and the costs associated with their production, our results suggest the need to search for other alternative (bio)surfactants with better selectivity and lower price.
Original languageEnglish
Article number168382
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Bioremediation
  • Biosurfactants
  • Critical micelle concentration
  • Phytoremediation
  • Synthetic surfactants


Dive into the research topics of 'Critical evaluation of the performance of rhamnolipids as surfactants for (phyto)extraction of Cd, Cu, Fe, Pb and Zn from copper smelter-affected soil'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this