Scrubbing up sustainably

Scrubbing up sustainably

10:44 AM, 3rd April 2018
The fatty alcohol ethoxylates are the non-ionic surfactants which are widely used in washing detergents both domestic and industrial. (File photo)
The fatty alcohol ethoxylates are the non-ionic surfactants which are widely used in washing detergents both domestic and industrial. (File photo)

The future growth of the surfactants industry is being registered by the non-ionic surfactants market.

By Debarati Das

A bubble bath or a good lather while you scrub your clothes- surfactants are the key ingredients in your soap that makes all that foam. Not just that. Surfactants also facilitate the removal of dirt by decreasing the surface tension of liquids, and between liquid and a solid. In short, they ‘rinse-off’ all the dirt.

Despite various environmental concerns, these surface-active chemicals are found in almost every kind of cleaning agents and finds its application in a range of applications including industrial cleaning, textile, cosmetics, paints, plastics, etc. However, its use in soaps and detergents hold the maximum share of this industry which accounts for around 50% of the global market, both in terms of volume and value. 

Surfactants come in four different types: Anionic, non-ionic, cationic and amphoteric. Amidst various categories of surfactants, anionic surfactants currently hold 50 percent of the market. However, it is the non-ionic surfactants that are expected to have the strongest growth in the market in the future as they are increasingly gaining popularity in the industry due to their inherent bio-friendly properties and degradability. Various regulations and increasing non-toxicity norms will further boost the growth of this surfactant segment in the industry.

The chemistry here is simple. Non-ionic surfactants do not carry an electrical charge, making them resistant to deactivation in water with a high mineral content. In other words, the major advantage of non-ionic surfactants is that they cannot make contact with calcium and magnesium in hard water. Soaps form insoluble calcium and magnesium salts with the calcium and magnesium ions in hard water. Much of the soap is unused forming an insoluble layer. But, this issue can be solved by using a non-ionic surfactant hence making them efficient grease removers. Furthermore, due to their mildness, non-ionic surfactants are widely used in baby care products.

Market Update

While the global surfactants market is growing at a CAGR of 6.23 percent to reach $47.53 billion by 2022, according to a report by Market Research Future, the global non-ionic surfactants market is expected to witness a CAGR of approximately 4.5 percent between 2016 and 2023. The Asia-Pacific region will hold the major portion of the pie in the non-ionic surfactants market. This growth will be supported not just by the increasing demand from the end use industries but also due to increasing per capita income, upgraded lifestyle and abundant raw material availability in this region. The market will be driven by the rising demand for non-ionic surfactants in various industries, such as personal care, soaps & detergents and pharmaceutical industry.  

North America holds the second largest position for non-ionic surfactants market followed by Europe. Other regions, including Latin America, Middle East & Africa are also projected to show significant growth.

“Non-ionic surfactants market is expected grow at a moderate pace in the coming years. Rising demand from personal care segment and cosmetics such as cleaners, shampoos and other related products for removing dirt, oil and stains etc, is expected to drive the market demand for non-ionic surfactants in the coming years,” said Karan Chechi, research director, TechSci Research.

Technological Trends

Fatty alcohol and fatty acid ethoxylates are two popular variants of surface active surfactant products used in cleaning, emulsifying, wetting, scouring and various other applications in industries. The fatty alcohol ethoxylates are the non-ionic surfactants which are widely used in washing detergents both domestic and industrial. These are used as wetting and cleaning agents in cosmetics, agriculture, textile, paper, oil and various other process industries. Fatty acid ethoxylates are formed from ethoxylation process where fatty acids are made to react with ethylene oxide. The ethoxylate bi-products formed from this process are non ionic surface active agents used in domestic as well as industrial formulations.  These are widely applied in processes as emulsifying softeners, wetting agents, cleaning agents and dispersants.

“Adoption of Fatty Al ethoxylates (AE) and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) in food & beverage processing industry owing to their resistance to temperature and pH fluctuations is another key factor which is expected to propel the market demand for non-ionic surfactants in the coming years,” added Chechi.

While synthetic surfactants are widely used, the surfactant industry is more and more trying to offer naturally derived compositions to the market and hence, foaming and cleaning nonionic surfactants are increasingly being derived from vegetable oils.  A more recent trend in the nonionic category is to be 100 percent biorenewable and hence while traditionally this class of surfactants uses ethylene oxide derived from petroleum sources, most companies are trying to come up with more biorenewable alternative.

“Growing market demand for fluorinated non-ionic surfactants in paints and coating and polymer industry has highlighted the need for innovative product development, owing to which companies such as 3M introduced a new addition to ‘Novec’ line of fluorosurfactants that can simplify and speed up the processing of paints and coatings formulations by eliminating predilution, pre-weighing, premeasuring,” said Chechi.

Evonik also recently launched a new non-ionic surfactant to meet VOC and regulatory compliances. The Carbowet GA-200 grind aid surfactant is a non-ionic additive engineered to provide multifunctional benefits in a wide range of aqueous formulations and meet increasing global regulations and EH&S considerations. It offers superior low-foam surfactancy for pigmented systems providing wetting, milling, and compatibilization benefits without the adverse impacts on water sensitivity, foam, or rheology typically found with other surfactants. It finds application in architectural paints, industrial and OEM coatings, paper coatings, pigment dispersions, inks and graphic arts.

Business Expansion

In an attempt to keep up with the rising demand from various end user industries such as soaps & detergents, personal care, textile, elastomers & plastics, companies across the globe are moving towards capacity expansions. Here are some of the recent developments in the industry:

In October 2017, Croda International Plc commissioned a manufacturing plant in Delaware to produce ethylene oxide derived from biorenewable ethanol. The first of its type in the United States, the new plant is capable of producing 100 percent renewable, bio-based non-ionic surfactants. These surfactants can be used in a wide range of consumer products including cosmetics and hair care products in the personal care industry; lubricants and coatings in the automotive industry; air- and floor-care products in the cleaning industry; as well as drilling fluids in the oil industry. “We will offer our customers a strong alternative in terms of renewability and performance to replace petrochemical-based ingredients in their formulations without compromising performance. This will help our customers reach their own sustainability goals and serve the needs of their customers,” said Steve Foots, chief executive, Croda International Plc Group.

Innospec Inc recently increased its capacity at the surfactant production facility in Saint Mihiel, France in an attempt on increasing the production of dried anionic surfactants. These technologies are used in a range of household detergents, in particular toilet and hard surface cleaners. “This is one of the core product families in our recently acquired surfactants business. This new investment is consistent with our strategy of focusing on specialty surfactant markets and applications,” said Bruce McDonald, president of Innospec’s performance chemicals business. The company also increased the production capacity for Iselux® (Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate) in its North Carolina plant in the US last year. Iselux® was launched in 2009 as a new, high-performance, sulfate-free surfactant to help customers meet consumer demands for gentle, effective cleansing across a wide range of personal care applications.

Stepan Company, through a subsidiary in Mexico, through its subsidiary in Mexico signed an agreement with BASF Mexicana, SA DE CV to acquire its surfactant production facility in Ecatepec, Mexico. "The acquisition supports the Company's growth strategy in Latin America. We believe this acquisition significantly enhances Stepan's market position and supply capabilities for surfactants in Mexico and positions us to grow in both the Consumer and Functional markets for surfactants," said F Quinn Stepan Jr, chairman, president and CEO of Stepan Company. 

The market constantly requires effective and innovative products and such developments are sure to give boost to the non-ionic surfactants market in the future.

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