Demand for surfactants may have slowed this year after a robust 2022, but interest in sustainable materials continues apace. That’s no surprise to Tony Gough, technical director of Innospec and the chairman of the CESIO World Surfactant Congress held earlier this year.
“Sustainability and regulations are obviously among the key topical subjects in the surfactants industry currently and will probably remain so for many years to come,” said Gough.
Forecasters agree. Global demand for surfactants in all industries is growing 4.9% a year and will reach $57.8 billion by 2028, according to ResearchandMarkets, Dublin. Nonionics are expected to be the fastest-growing surfactant type and, once again, the Asia-Pacific region will be the fastest-growing region.
According to Jarrod A. Kaltenbach, VP-surfactants, Coast Southwest, surfactants, like other categories of ingredients, consumer preferences for “green,” mild, sustainable and “free-from” are pushing the market to new standards.
Siltech has focused, during the past few years, on improving the sustainability of its silicones, by replacing organo-functional components traditionally derived from petroleum sources, with feedstocks sourced from biobased materials.
“These new PEG-dimethicone surfactants and alkyl dimethicone emulsifiers have high biobased carbon content, while maintaining the desired premium benefits of specialty silicones,” noted Brian Allen, global marketing and sales director, Siltech.
According to BASF executives, it is undeniable that surfactant demand has decreased in comparison to last year, which is largely attributed to the lackluster performance of the home care cleaning and personal care markets. This has had a direct effect on retail sales, with inflationary pressures and consumer cost cutting further exacerbating the situation. While the current landscape is concerning, BASF remains optimistic that the market will recover and is prepared to tackle this challenge.
At Siltech, demand is lower than 2022, which was an exceptionally busy year, but is still above 2021 levels, according to Allen.
“Supply chains appeared to react to tight market conditions in 2022, with companies ordering at higher-than-normal demand levels, seemingly in an effort to ensure consistent supply,” he said. “By the end of 2022 many of these companies appeared to be working through excess inventory, which has carried into 2023.”
Other surfactant suppliers told Happi that while the year got off to a slower-than-usual start, as the year’s progressed, the pace accelerated.
“Consumers want to look good. They want to pamper themselves with mild and sustainable options. The indie brands have been an influence,” Kaltenbach told Happi. “Brands that are good at targeting and optimizing beauty niches are doing better than ever—brands that take a little more risk and have multiple avenues to the customer, including boutique stores, departments within national chains, and of course online sales and marking with Instagram and TikTok.”
Being quick to market is more important than ever with these brands.
“We are responding by expanding our geographic presence,” Kaltenbach explained. “Out stocking levels, innovative surfactant systems for a wide range of personal care applications, and especially our ability to work directly with our customers on formulating and problem solving allows us to help brands speed up-to-market processes.”
Brenntag’s HI&I surfactant demand has been steadily increasing in 2023 where other industries have a soft demand, explained Marrisa Phillips, marketing specialist, Americas, Brenntag.
“Overall continuity of supply has stabilized; however, there are still force majeures in effect on certain chemistries,” she explained.
Suppliers note that after inflation surged in 2022, prices for most chemistries have declined—but there are other economic issues on the horizon.
“One of the biggest concerns would be the threat of imports in the US, and the threat of supply stability,” said Phillips. “As a consumer, the concern could be continued inflation as a fear of a recession setting in.”
She told Happi that its strategic suppliers successfully passed through price increases; but as a distributor, Brenntag has not been as successful.
“We value our relationships in making sure our customers are competitive in the markets they choose to serve,” said Phillips. “Additionally, inflation has impacted all raw materials and demand erosion has occurred, but overall consumer spending has been steady. Imports continue to be a factor in certain chemistries and have created some market price decreases.”
Siltech always attempts to mitigate rising costs through production efficiencies and optimization, said Allen. But he noted this is not always possible and the company had to adjust the pricing for some offerings in 2023, in order to ensure supply consistency for its partners.
“Inflation increases have appeared to subside in many raw material categories and supply has eased in 2023, while other categories remain tight,” he told Happi. “There are no overriding concerns regarding the global economy as we head into 2024, but we continue to listen to market wants and adjust our portfolio of goods to match customer needs.”
What They Want
And what do customers seek? Coast Southwest reports hair care and skin care are driving the market for high-end products. Consumers are willing to spend money on products where they feel and see a difference—anti-wrinkle, smoothing, and improved suppleness, or evening of skin tone, according to Kaltenbach.
As a chemical distributor, Brenntag’s partners are continuously introducing new products.
“Trends we are seeing in our surfactant portfolio include bio-based, naturally-derived and regulatory driven, such as low 1,4-dioxane,” explained Phillips. “We have also noticed a shift from nonylphenol ethoxylates to greener chemistries.”
Every executive who spoke with Happi noted they are constantly looking at ways to optimize the business and improve the customer experience. Brenntag, for example, has implemented an SLES surfactant dilution unit that’s located in Toronto, Ontario.
“At this facility, we take 70% active SLES and dilute it to 30%, making it easier for customers to formulate,” said Phillips. “We also have a surfactant down pack facility located in Houston.”
Coast Southwest’s new corporate headquarters in Irving, TX, is set to open. This 105,660-square-foot facility will be the center point of its business operationally and signifies the success of Coast Southwest’s 38-year evolution from a regional chemical distributor with West Coast roots to a national chemical distribution powerhouse. According to Kaltenbach, the expansion of Coast Southwest’s local distribution, warehousing and manufacturing capabilities in Texas triples previous commitments. Over the past several years, Coast Southwest established its Midwest infrastructure and operations in Chicago and South Bend, IN. Most recently, Coast Southwest built a full team on the East Coast—from New Jersey to Florida—to serve customers across the US.
Siltech recently broke ground in Fort Erie, Ontario, for its new greenfield site, which will be the location for the company’s third manufacturing facility. The investment doubles existing nameplate capacity, according to Allen.
“The new plant will house equipment and capabilities aimed at further expanding our improved sustainability product lines,” he said.
At its site in Cincinnati, OH, BASF is expanding its global alkyl polyglucosides (APGs) production capacity. This investment will expand BASF’s production capabilities in the US, enabling the company to provide increased support to North American APG’s customers with local supply points and reduced cross-regional volume flows. The additional capacities are anticipated to become available in 2025.
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, BASF increased production capacity for Tinopal CBS optical brighteners at the Monthey site. After the completion of phase one of the stepwise capacity increase in 2021, the investment program has resulted in a significant boost of capacity to meet the increasing global customer demand, according to BASF.
Finally, BASF successfully started up a new methane sulfonic acid plant at the Ludwigshafen Verbund site. The investment allows for additional sales volumes to be available by the third quarter of 2022. This new plant enables BASF to meet the growing global customer demand for both, high-performance and environmentally optimized formulations, according to company officials.
As inflation and recession fears ebb, suppliers are making key surfactant investments for the future.
New Product Developments
The move to oleo- and biobased solutions is well underway in the surfactant market. According to Kaltenbach, Coast Southwest’s focus on versatility and performance helps customers get to market faster with surfactant solutions that address new or existing regulatory requirements and market demands for more sustainable solutions.
“We offer surfactant systems that are sulfate-free and extremely mild options for personal care formulations,” said Kaltenbach.
One of them is Endinol Mild B-SF70A (Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (and) Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine (and) Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate (and) Lauryl Glucoside (and) Cocamidopropylamine Oxide (and) Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside).
“Endinol Mild B-SF70A can be easily diluted into natural formulations to achieve exceptional foaming and feel,” said Kaltenbach. “We have pre-optimized this ingredient, so it is cold-processable and easy to handle.”
The isethionate-based, sulfate-free surfactant package is based on vegetable-derived, mild and gentle surfactants. The inclusion of an amino acid surfactant gives it exceptional skin compatibility. This ingredient contains no Proposition 65 ingredients of concern, no cocamidopropyl betaine, no alkyl and alkyl ether sulfates, nor sulfonates or DEA.
“Our customers use Endinol Mild B-SF70A to create gentle cleansing products—facial wash, body wash, sensitive skin cleansers, and foaming hand soaps,” explained Kaltenbach. “It is especially suitable for frequent-use hand soaps in medical environments where people wash their hands several times and hour.”
Endinol Mild SCI-85 (sodium cocoyl isethionate) is a high active, vegetable-derived, sulfate-free anionic surfactant that is an ideal base for creating sulfate-free cleansing products. It creates a rich, creamy, stable lather and imparts a soft, clean skin feel. In application, it imparts a soap-like feel and lather but unlike soap is hard-water compatible and mild.
Finally, Endicare SD is a high-active cationic conditioning agent and emulsifier which can be diluted with water and neutralized with citric or lactic acids to create rich, creamy conditioners. This ingredient comes in flakes, is easier to handle logistically and in formulations for conditioners and hair masques. It can simplify the formulation of conditioners and helps in both wet comb and dry comb hair care applications.
Siltech has focused, during the past few years, on improving the sustainability of its silicones, through replacing organo-functional components traditionally derived from petroleum sources, with feedstocks sourced from biobased materials.
These new PEG-dimethicone surfactants and alkyl dimethicone emulsifiers have high biobased carbon content, while maintaining the desired premium benefits of specialty silicones.
BASF has two new materials for home care formulations. Polyquart S Granules is a biobased (80%) automatic dish additive that tackles stubborn spotting and filming by offering a statistically significant boost in shine. This readily biodegradable and EPA Safer Choice-listed ingredient offers a sustainability story while still helping achieve the “clean twinkle” in dishes consumers expect to see, according to BASF.
Also approved for use in Safer Choice products, Euperlan Eco is the first moderately biodegradable opacifier for home care, according to BASF. This modified starch polymer is 43% biobased, and helps formulators opacify with a more sustainable ingredient, while providing consumers with a premium cleaning experience.
Sustainable solutions can be found in the strangest of places. At the CESIO World Surfactant Congress in June, Renke Rommerskirchen of Sasol Chemicals detailed the benefits of using organic waste digested by insects as new feedstocks for sustainable products. Specifically, the black soldier fly creates an oil that is rich in C12-14 lauric acid. According to Rommerskirchen, this insect doesn’t need much space and produces a high yield—30 times that of coconut.
“Insects generate high-value feedstocks from low value waste streams,” he explained. “The oil is already used in livestock feed and biofuel.”
Furthermore, the insect oil has a very negative carbon footprint; experts estimate it is lower than coconut oil. The profile is good, but will consumers accept bug-based household cleaners? Rommerskirchen cited 2019 consumer research that found 86% of Belgians were willing to test household cleaning products with insect-based materials.
Maybe, but a CESIO attendee noted that in Henkel’s research, only 50% of consumers were willing to use insect-based formulas.
“There may be issues with the vegan community,” he noted. “We must better communicate the benefits to consumers and publish findings in scientific literature.”
Yes, there are obstacles to overcome; but bug-based surfactants could be viable, sustainable solutions. More than 2,100 species of insects are already consumed by people. If two billion consumers around the world are putting bugs on their plate, surely they’d be willing to wash their plates with insect-based formulas!
New Ingredients from Industry Suppliers
|Learn the full formulation via happi.com|
Florham Park, NJ
|Description:||Amphoteric modified starch granules|
|Attributes:||Polyquart S Granules is a biobased (80%) automatic dish additive that tackles stubborn spotting and filming by offering a statistically significant boost in shine. This readily biodegradable and Safer Choice listed ingredient offers a sustainability story while still helping formulators achieve the clean twinkle in dishes that consumers expect to see.|
|Description:||Starch, polymer with styrene and methacrylic acid. Dispersion|
|Applications:||Manual dish, laundry|
|Attributes:||Approved for use in Safer Choice products, Euperlan Eco is the first moderately biodegradable opacifier for home care. 43% biobased, this modified starch polymer can help opacify with a more sustainable ingredient and provide consumers with a premium cleaning experience.|
|Silwax Sustain 5116|
|INCI:||Cetyl Dimethicone (alkylated silicone)|
|Applications:||softener in textiles, tissue paper; spreadability, enhanced oil compatability, emolliency & reduced white-cast in skin and sun care|
|Attributes:||Silwax Sustain 5116 is a liquid alkylated silicone. Silwax Sustain 5116 functions as a more sustainable version of the standard Silwax B116. Relative to the standard, or “non-Sustain” version, the alkyl component of Silwax Sustain 5116 is derived from biobased plant sources, rather than petroleum-based feedstocks. The total biobased carbon content for the product has been measured at >82%, per ASTM D6866. Alkyl pendant groups increase oil solubility and compatibility with organic systems. The product provides excellent spreadability, pleasing sensorial, gloss and emollience.|
|Silube Sustain 4316|
|INCI:||Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone (silicone alkyl polyether)|
|Applications:||Lubricity and anti-wear in industrial applications, emulsifier and wetting agent in personal care applications including skin & sun care and makeup|
|Attributes:||Silube Sustain 4316 is a water-insoluble alkyl functional silicone polyether emulsifier. Silube Sustain 4316 functions as a more sustainable version of the standard Silube T308-16-CG. Relative to the standard, or “non-Sustain” version, the polyether and alkyl components of Silube Sustain 4316 are derived from biobased plant sources, rather than petroleum-based feedstocks. The total biobased carbon content for the product has been measured at >73%, per ASTM D6866. The product is a cost-effective emulsifier, wetting agent and surface tension depressant across multiple applications.|