The Surfactants Market

By Kerry Pianoforte | March 10, 2011

Coatings World recently spoke with a number of surfactant suppliers to the coatings industry regarding the state of the market. Among the topics discussed were raw material costs, “green” chemistry and opportunities for growth.

Coatings World: What do you think are the primary issues facing the surfactants market today?

Carsten Bauman, director, global marketing – emulsion polymerization surfactants, Cognis North America: One of the major issues in the surfactant markets today is dealing with heavily fluctuating raw material costs, e.g. crude oil or renewable oil prices. Another issue is the increasing customer interest in products that do not harm the environment, and the need for eco-friendly surfactant solutions that still deliver top performance. At the same time, the surfactant markets are very cost sensitive, meaning that the surfactant solutions should help customers control their total costs. This is especially true in sophisticated technical applications such as emulsion polymerization, where the surfactants play a key role for the final performance of the formulation. Customers realize that this can be achieved best by using high quality surfactants with a proven track record of consistent quality and supply chain reliability, which helps avoid the need for unnecessary process adjustments and delays.

Maureen Mackay, global marketing manager, specialty additives, Cytec Industries: Like all markets surfactants are facing increased raw material costs and this is expected to be a major issue throughout 2011. Environmental concerns such as low VOC content and alkyl phenol ethoxylate-free products are also changing the face of the surfactants market with several major product classes now under threat or being phased out, with customers increasingly looking for alternatives.

Peter Sheridan, director – performance additives, Troy Corp: As with many other industries today, manufacturers that can continue to offer innovative products with class-leading performance and minimum environmental impact, coupled with competitive cost-in-use, are in the best position to lead. For the surfactants market, doing more with less is certainly the case. Troy makes every effort to provide innovative solutions to its customers, with efficiency, multi-functional attributes, value and full regulatory compliance.

Coatings World: What regions present the most opportunity for growth?

Carsten Bauman, Cognis: The Asian market is probably the region with the highest growth potential for surfactants for emulsion polymerization. Two factors contribute to that development. 1. The overall growth rate of the region with the excellent outlook for typical emulsion polymerization end markets, including paints and coatings for construction and housing, paper, adhesives and textiles. 2. The fast technological development, which is catching up quickly with European and U.S. standards, especially in the field of sustainable technologies.

Maureen Mackay, Cytec: We currently see growth in all regions; however the largest new opportunities are currently in the Asian market, especially China and South East Asia, and Eastern Europe.

Peter Sheridan, Troy: Asia presents the greatest opportunity for growth in the long term. Troy is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities in the region, with its full range of products already in place in the Asia market, along with our years of experience and manufacturing expertise in the region. North America and Europe are now emerging from the economic downturn, and we can expect sustained growth over the next two to three years as consumer and construction markets increase spending.

Coatings World: What are the key trends affecting the surfactants market?

Carsten Bauman, Cognis: The major trend in the market for surfactants for emulsion polymerization is the drive for environmentally sound surfactant systems, and primarily the replacement of alkylphenol-based products (APEO). This trend has been ongoing in Western Europe for more than 10 years. In other regions this development is still in its infancy and drives the demand for environmentally sound surfactants.

Maureen Mackay, Cytec: There are many trends in the surfactants market some of which are also of importance in other markets such as biodegradability, volatile organic content (VOC) free, alkyl phenyl ethoxylate (APE) free, the move from petrochemical to renewable raw materials, a desire/interest to use natural-based or derived products. Reactive surfactants also continue to be an area of interest, but the challenge continues to be the cost effectiveness and performance of these types of products. The ongoing trend in the paint and coatings industry is the move from solventborne to waterborne systems. Here the challenge for the surfactant manufacturer is to provide a product that allows the customer to produce a final water-based product with the same overall performance properties.

Peter Sheridan, Troy: Minimizing VOC contribution and endeavoring to accommodate tomorrow’s regulatory restrictions are key drivers in the surfactants market. Paints and coatings manufacturers are taking advantage of consumer interest in “green” products, so suppliers are offering new-generation green surfactants. Helping coatings formulators to improve the performance of new, low-VOC products hitting the market is a key focus for Troy.

Coatings World: How is your company meeting the needs of customers who are looking for “greener” technologies?

Carsten Bauman, Cognis: As one of the leading surfactant suppliers in the world, Cognis, part of the BASF group, has always been a driver for green and environmentally sound surfactant solutions based on renewable resources. Also in the field of emulsion polymerization, Cognis was a front-runner in developing and offering APEO-free alternatives to the markets. Disponil FES types in the anionic sector and Disponil A and AFX types in the non-ionic sector belong to the first wave of versatile and successful alternatives to APEO products that have been developed for the market and that have been widely accepted industry benchmarks.

Maureen Mackay, Cytec: We have some R&D efforts investigating new surfactant technologies based on renewable raw materials. We are also exploring opportunities to replace petroleum-based raw materials used in our current surfactant products with similar naturally derived products.

Peter Sheridan, Troy: Troy has worked to develop performance additives that contribute low or zero VOCs, zero HAPs and zero APE. Troy’s Z-line of green  performance additives incorporate these environmentally responsible attributes, while at the same time offering the performance coatings manufacturers demand. Troysol ZLAC wetting and flow additive is an example of these efforts. Troysol ZLAC offer the same class-leading performance of traditional LAC, but without the VOC contribution. Troy has also been concentrating on introducing multi-functional additives, which are products that do the jobs of several additives, in one. This offers a further green advantage to formulators, since one multi-functional additive contributes far fewer VOCs than the three or four conventional additives it replaces.

Coatings World: What areas are your R&D efforts focusing on for the future?

Carsten Bauman, Cognis: In the future we will focus on developing environmentally sound surfactant solutions that offer top performance for our customers, e.g. aromatic-free surfactants for the manufacture of SB latex systems. Another focus of our R&D activities will be on the development of co-polymerizable surfactants, enabling the customers to use less surfactant with less negative impact of the surfactant on the final formulation properties.

Maureen Mackay, Cytec: We have some work underway looking into the use of our surfactant products at very low concentrations for the production of acrylic and styrene-acrylic ultrafine particle size (less than 100 nanometers) latexes. This work will be applicable in numerous coatings applications. We also have an active R&D program looking at the development of new surfactants based on renewable raw materials, with the aim of producing products offering enhanced emulsion and dispersion stability for coatings applications.

Peter Sheridan, Troy: Troy R&D efforts are continuing to focus on optimum performance for tomorrow’s coatings, and expanding Troy’s Z-line of green performance additives. As coatings manufacturers demand more capability from less total additive, Troy is concentrating on incorporating more and more multifunctional aspects into the additives we manufacture, and creating additives that offer excellent performance at lower use levels. Furthermore, minimizing or eliminating contribution of VOCs and other formulation components that may have an environmental impact is important to coatings manufacturers, so Troy will continue to do its part to develop additives that have little to no environmental impact and maximum safe use attributes.

Coatings World: What new products has your company recently launched and what are their applications?

Carsten Bauman, Cognis: We recently introduced Disponil NG types and Disponil AFX 4070, both highly efficient APEO-free non-ionic surfactants for the Emulsion Polymerization market. Both products offer a very advantageous phase profile with low pour points, enabling us to deliver highly active but still liquid products to the market, saving transport and storage costs for our customers. While Disponil NG products offer additionally low foam properties compared to standard non-ionic surfactants, Disponil AFX 4070 can be considered a straight APEO-free drop-in for the widely used octylphenol-40 EO product.

Maureen Mackay, Cytec: We recently launched Aerosol EF-810 which is a highly effective APE-free primary emulsifier. This is aimed at the emulsion polymer market where it provides excellent emulsion and pre-emulsion stability, increases operating efficiencies by minimizing grit and coagulum in the reaction producing enhanced latex properties such as high solids and excellent mechanical stability. We also recently launched our initial Aerosol CS product, which demonstrates our “Custom Solution” capability to provide custom blended surfactants to meet specific customer and industry needs. The initial product offered improved handling, simplified emulsion polymer process incorporation and improved operational efficiency. We are working with the industry and other individual customers to identify similar opportunities. Additionally we are regularly introducing customer specific solutions, addressing issues such as food contact approvals or environmental/SHE concerns by reducing residuals in our surfactants or by using specific (co-)solvents for a variety of applications in coatings, paper and plastics markets

Peter Sheridan, Troy:  In direct response to manufacturers’ efforts to comply with VOC regulations, Troy has introduced Troysol ZLAC, a substrate wetting and flow additive that contributes zero VOCs to aqueous systems. The product is the latest addition to Troy’s Z-line of green performance additives engineered to help manufacturers achieve regulatory compliance and still maintain optimum performance. ZLAC provides the same benefits and attributes long associated with LAC, but without the VOCs. Silicone-free, HAPs-free, APE-free Troysol ZLAC is the latest in a class of multifunctional additives developed by Troy. ZLAC promotes wetting of low energy substrates, and provides higher gloss, improved flow and leveling, and excellent color acceptance.  Troy has also introduced Troysperse 200SF, a solvent-free dispersing additive for non-aqueous systems.  200SF is effective for difficult-to-use pigments, such as carbon black, phthalocyanines, and other organic pigments.  Since 200SF is solvent-free, the product enables the formulator to comply with changing environmental regulations. Troysperse 200SF, with its low use concentrations, also provides excellent cost-in-use. The product improves color strength, increases gloss, and allows higher pigment concentration for coatings across a wide range of resin chemistries. It is especially effective for high-solids coatings and color pigment concentrates.

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