The artful science of fragrances

Published: August 29, 2017

Tim Whiteley, Global Research & Development Director at CPL Aromas, and Angela Stavrevska, UK Creative Director and Perfumer, talk to Sarah Harding about the company’s new R&D centre and some of the ground-breaking research being undertaken by this leading fragrance house.

As many sectors of the pharmaceutical industry embrace digital technology, it is refreshing to find one where human input still reigns supreme. While equipment like mass spectrometers are common in the laboratories of fragrance houses, these tools – and even sophisticated ‘electronic noses’ – are too limited to deal with the complex facets of a fragrance, which only the human experience can adequately begin to describe.

“There is a language of fragrance that is based on emotions and human experiences,” explains Angela Stavrevska, UK Creative Director and Perfumer at CPL Aromas. “Fragrances can be so complex that even if two have 98% chemical similarity, they can still smell completely different.”

But don’t be fooled into thinking that modern fragrance houses haven’t moved with the times. The fact that they still rely on the sensitivity of the human nose for much of their work doesn’t keep them in the dark ages! In the sophisticated modern world of perfumery, scientific research is constantly breaking new ground to improve upon existing formulations and develop new ones, to meet ever-growing consumer demands and expectations. CPL Aromas, the world’s biggest ‘fragrance-only’ fragrance house, is leading the way in much of this research.

A tour of the site reveals impressive facilities and rooms with ‘odour scrubbers’ – the equivalent of a ‘clean room’ that provides a blank canvas within which fragrances can be evaluated for smell and performance. The site in Bishops Stortford, UK, provides local test facilities for customers in the UK – just as CPL Aromas’ facilities in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Dubai, Indonesia, and imminent openings in India and Colombia, provide local test facilities in other parts of the world.

However, CPL Aromas’ dedication to science is best exemplified by its new £1 million research centre in Northamptonshire, UK. In the words of Tim Whiteley, Global Research & Development Director, this centre was built for “The research we know we have to do and the testing we think we might want to do in the future.”

State-of-the art facilities at the new R&D centre in Northamptonshire, UK

While the company’s ‘local’ sites are dedicated to supporting local customers, the new R&D centre in Northamptonshire allows the company to do longer-term work with a broader scope. The Northamptonshire site is a state-of-the-art facility that further strengthens the company's world-class research capabilities via its existing centres around the world. The facility is equipped to ensure that the site is completely controllable in terms of the odour – a factor that is further supported by being a separate and dedicated facility.

"Because there is only testing and not manufacturing, there is no tainting from the odours produced by a manufacturing facility," explains Tim Whiteley.

The R&D team has at its disposal:

- Five auto-flushing toilet rooms with sinks, for testing of rim-blocks, toilet cleaners and in-cistern products; sinks are used to test washing up liquids, bath foam and shower gel in-room fragrance performance
- Ten cubicles for air-care evaluation, mainly including testing of CPL Aromas' own Aromaguard malodour counteractant fragrance technology
- Three large bathrooms, each fitted with a toilet, hair wash station and a bath with tiled floor (the tiled floor is to evaluate the performance of floor cleaners and all-purpose cleaners in a controlled and comparable environment)
- An Emanation Room is a specially designed room for air freshener products under controlled air flow and temperature condition.
- Laundry and dish-washing products are assessed and developed with the help of the Laundry Room which is fitted with four washing machines, two dishwashers and dryers, as well as a Laundrometer that can simultaneously test up to 20 samples under controlled conditions
- The Encapsulation laboratory has been fitted with reactors for the creation of liquid encapsulated fragrances; a bench-top spray dryer also allows the scientists to transform liquid fragrances into various types of powders.


As explained by Tim Whiteley, in the 1930s, encapsulation revolutionized the food industry with items such as powdered egg – an essential basic food item during the second world war, and just one example of how spray-drying was adopted to hold a flavour until it was ‘triggered’ with the additional of water and/or heat in a cooking environment. By the 1950s, encapsulation technology was being applied to the printing industry to create carbon-copy papers that didn’t release their copying ink until the trigger of friction was applied. The technology was rolled out to pesticides, fertilizers, and some of our readers might remember the promises of tights (hose) with encapsulated moisturizers or cellulite-treatments in the 1990s.

The technology means that it is possible to hold a volatile compound – such as a fragrance – in a dry powder until it is needed. It is public knowledge that Ariel washing detergent powder (produced by Proctor & Gamble) has included encapsulated fragrances for the past 20 years.

However, when encapsulating a fragrance for liquid products, manufacturers need to be very careful about how the fragrance is formulated. This is a massive area for R&D – according to Tim Whiteley, there were more than 5000 patents in 2014 alone pertaining to encapsulation that mention fragrances.

CPL Aromas rose to the challenge of consumer demand for longevity of fragrance on their clothes after washing. In 2013, the company launched its own fragrance encapsulation technology for liquid products.

“The fragrance on the towels washed on that day are just as strong, 4 years later,” Angela Stavrevska proudly declares. CPL Aroma’s fragrance encapsulation technology is now sold and used all over the world.

The next challenge is to obtain greater longevity in personal care products, as consumer demand grows for perfumes to last longer. This is the current focus of CPL Aroma’s encapsulation R&D. For example, the company is looking at hair sprays with encapsulated fragrances that ‘trigger’ release on friction by hair-brushing. With an average particle size of 12 microns, millions of particles would be released in a single application, and it could take several days for all particles to trigger the release of their fragrance molecules.

Technically, at the moment it isn’t possible to encapsulate fragrance in alcoholic perfumes to extend their longevity, explains Tim Whiteley, but it’s something his teams are working on. “Watch this space,” he advises, with a wink.


CPL Aromas has developed its own range of products called Aromafusion, which are unique blends of natural and synthetic fragrances.

The first advantage is that these products can make a very expensive ingredient more accessible. For example, Angela Stavrevska explains, natural Orris oil from the roots of Iris germanica and Iris pallida typically costs around £6000/kg (some varieties may cost up to £45,000) but CPL Aromas’ Orris Fusion costs only £500/kg.

In addition, these are uniquely complex aromas, and they cannot be deconstructed and copied by competitor companies. They many include fractions of essential oils that have been re-distilled and re-mixed, for example, and the final complex blends will include components hidden behind others on a trace, making it difficult to find individual constituents. This offers a key advantage to CPL Aromas’ customers, Tim Whiteley adds, as it means they have a truly unique captive fragrance that cannot be copied by their competitors.

So far, CPL Aromas has developed ten Aromafusion materials. The company’s R&D teams are currently working on more, with the aim of finally holding a portfolio of up to 24 unique natural-synthetic fragrance blends.


CPL Aromas’ EcoBoost technology creates fragrances that are ten times stronger than conventional ingredients, and therefore require only 10% volume. The technology is not simple concentration of existing products. In fact, it involves a deconstruction and re-development of the way the fragrance is put together.

By using EcoBoost fragrances that can be used at one tenth of the normal fragrance dosage, it is possible to have levels of allergens or other CLP hazardous substances at levels below their trigger thresholds so that labelling of the end product is not required due to the fragrance. For example, with allergens needing to be listed on cosmetic product packaging if they are at >0.001% in leave-on products or >0.01% in wash-off, and the number of allergens that need to be listed about to increase significantly, EcoBoost fragrances that make it much easier to have fragrances that have levels of allergens below the threshold limits are greatly beneficial. As regulatory requirements for non-cosmetic products become stricter under CLP guidelines and for REACH compliance, the ability for EcoBoost fragrances to allow for less hazard labelling on packaging is also a considerable benefit.

In most cases, the use of EcoBoost products is cost-saving, and the products are designed to avoid problems such as discolouring.

EcoBoost cannot be applied to every fragrance but, where it can be applied, it can offer considerable benefits. CPL Aromas has already sold £5 million of Eco-Boost products since launch. As the range expands, and the advantages of these products become more widely recognised, that market is expected to grow.

Company ethos
CPL Aromas is renowned for its corporate responsibility. With its flagship project for visually impaired evaluators in India being rolled out in other parts of the world (including the new R&D centre in Northamptonshire, UK), the company is dedicated to giving people back their dignity and independence.

CPL Aromas works closely with a Canadian fragrance brand called 7 Virtues that works specifically with war-torn areas. An example of recent work in this area is the planting of patchouli plants from Indonesia in Rwanda, where a co-operative of small famers working together will hopefully get back on their feet after the war. Together with 7 Virtues, CPL Aromas is also working to source raw materials from countries like Afghanistan and Palestine.

Working with CAFOD, CPL Aromas recently helped women in Colombia to develop a cosmetic manufacturing operation. CPL Aromas gave the women the knowledge, expertise and the first set of fragrances to get them going, and they now supply local markets with their products. CPL Aromas’ model has been adopted by CAFOD and applied elsewhere in the world.

Managing Director Chris Pickthall runs the London Marathon every year for CAFOD, and cajoles others to follow suit, encouraging 12 other colleagues to run in 2017

“I’ve run it four times,” laughs Tim Whiteley.

So there you have it.

CPL Aromas – leading the way in fragrance R&D, and a great place to work.

But if you decide to go and work there, be prepared to run the Marathon!



Copyright © 2017 Mack Brooks Speciality Publishing.