Surfactants Update

By Kerry Pianoforte, Associate Editor | March 19, 2012

Surfactants manufacturers focus on environmental issues and developing “greener” technologies.

Surfactants are a key ingredient in paint and coatings formulations. Ceresana Research estimates that the global surfactant market will generate revenues of more than $41 billion in 2018—translating to an average annual growth of 4.5 percent. With a roughly 37 percent share of global consumption, Asia Pacific is the largest surfactant outlet, followed by North America and Western Europe. According to Ceresana Research, over the next eight years, shares in demand of the individual world regions will shift significantly. The analysts from Ceresana forecast countries in Asia-Pacific to increase their shares in global surfactant demand—mainly at the expense of Western Europe and North America. In addition, South America will see strong growth, predominantly because of massive increases in production and consumption in Brazil.

“Asia is a rapidly growing region, especially in demand for APEO-free offerings. This is especially evident in China for two reasons,” said Shiona Stewart, additives marketing manager, Dow Coatings Materials. “First, a new standard (HJ/T 201-2005) is scheduled to come into legislation soon, requiring paint manufacturers to offer APEO-free paints in order to comply with and pass the certification for China Environmental Labeling. Dow’s Ecosurf surfactants offer the compliance solution and are generating tremendous interest from the region’s major paint manufacturers.

Additionally, recent high profile introductions of ultra low odor, low VOC paints by several of the Asia Pacific region’s top manufacturers are driving a significant market adoption trend.

“The largest volume gains in architectural coatings are coming from emerging economies such as China and India, but they have also been impacted by the overall economic downturn,” said Shruti Singhal, global marketing director, coatings specialties, Ashland Specialty Ingredients. “With nearly 20 percent of Ashland’s annual sales coming from these emerging regions, we are continuing to focus on capital investments in manufacturing and R&D, such as supporting our customers with new laboratories in China and India.”

Although emerging regions represent great growth potential, developed areas offer opportunities as well.

“Developed geographies where customers are moving to more and more waterborne and solvent-free systems present a great opportunity for innovations in surfactant technology,” said Jim Stange, North America coatings marketer, Dow Corning Corp. “Customers are looking for more environmentally friendly products with lower VOCs and BTX-free that help to meet more stringent regulations and customer’s requirements. Products with less environmental persistence are required. From an economics standpoint customers are looking for surfactants that can solve multiple problems, allow the coatings to keep up with faster processes in manufacturing and may also be effective at low usage levels.”

Pflaumer Brothers sees good prospects for growth in applications for higher performance coatings such as epoxies, polyurethanes and polyaspartics. “We see continued advancements in 100 percent solids coatings where new surfactants offer an opportunity to decrease viscosity and/or increase loadings of pigments and fillers, particularly where this increase represents a greater efficiency in manufacturing or a direct reduction in raw material costs,” said Craig McNair, COO and director of technology, Pflaumer Brothers. “Formulators of paints and coatings are being asked to improve manufacturing efficiency and reduce costs. It’s as simple as that. New surfactants that reduce viscosity and improve application properties in 100 percent solids coatings represent an important opportunity because the formulator can substitute lower-cost raw materials, including solvents, pigments and fillers into the formulation.” 

Environmental regulations have had a profound effect on the surfactants market. Increasingly strict regulations are driving the need for low and zero VOC products.

“Environmental and regulatory issues remain a prominent factor in the development and marketing of surfactants, particularly with regards to compliance with REACH standards,” said Izzy Colon, VP, general manager additives, VP science and technology, Troy Corp. “The elimination of APE surfactants (alkyl phenol ethoxylate), which have been the workhorse of the industry for years, creates serious formulation issues. Some suppliers have invested in developing ‘green’ products in anticipation of these concerns. Troy, for instance, offers a full suite of green, environmentally friendly Troysol wetting and flow and leveling additives with multifunctional benefits. These products have proven to be sustainable and highly effective.”

According to Singhal, stringent regulations to move to lower-VOC and APEO-free formulations are driving the global change in demand for surfactants with unique performance attributes. “In addition, customers want to combine functionality such as substrate wetting, better flow and leveling with performance attributes to reduce the total number of raw materials used,” he said. “This reduces the number of steps required to achieve desired formulations, thereby lowering overall costs. One example would be Ashland’s offering of Dextrol and Strodex phosphate ester surfactants (PES), which help meet these customer needs.”

Environmental regulations have been the impetus for the influx of “green” products being offered to formulators of paint and coatings. “Facing both regulatory pressure and consumer demand, coatings manufacturers need to offer products that offer the best of both worlds: the same high quality and surface characteristics as those historically offered, and green attributes, such as low VOCs,” said Colon “To help coatings manufacturers achieve these goals, additives suppliers such as Troy are focusing more on multifunctional additives, that is, single additive products that accomplish the tasks of several additives.”

“For instance, Troy’s ‘Z’ line of performance additives, many of which are multifunctional, is engineered specifically for low VOC, APE-free coatings systems in which compliance and maximum coating performance are imperative,” said Colon. “Troy’s multifunctional additives enhance multiple coating properties, including surface wetting, improved adhesion, surface flow and leveling, color development, surface slip and defoaming.”

“All new developments in our company are geared at helping our customers meet their green standards,” said Singhal. “We understand that the definitions are different around the world, so we have developed close partnerships with our customers to help them meet their goals. As we pursue strict regulatory targets, we are doing so with a very strong emphasis on increasing performance properties such as stain resistance, hiding, appearance and gloss, thereby focusing our efforts around paint quality and durability as well.”

According to Salvatore Monte, president of Kenrich Petrochemicals, Inc., some key issues facing the surfactants market include cost performance, environmental compliance regulations such as REACH, biodegradability, green and sustainable products. “

Kenrich is meeting its customers’ environmental needs with a number of sustainable products.  “We are making more efficient use of raw materials through the use of organometallic titanate, zirconate and aluminate to couple and electro-chemically bond, catalyze and functionalize two dissimilar interfaces.”

Rhodia also works alongside its customers to design products and solutions with reduced impact on health and the environment.  “Our first step is to understand what our customer means by greener,” said Mechelle Engemann, sustainable development manager, Rhodia Novecare. “As part of the Rhodia Way, the group’s approach to corporate social responsibility, Rhodia uses procedures that monitor its products throughout their life cycle.”

Performance Matters

Developing environmentally compliant products that meet performance requirements is a constant challenge for surfactant manufacturers.

“Regulations in this area can increase the formulating challenge for stability,” said Stewart. “We’ve anticipated these challenges and we’re working closely with our customers to deploy the solutions to help them successfully address the new regulations balanced with their performance objectives. As a result, we’re seeing much greater optimization of formulations that maintain performance within these more stringent requirements.  The new regulations are driving the industry to rethink formulation strategy, which in turn, is driving adoption of new surfactants and other additive technologies and product offerings.”

“Performance is always key,” said Pierre Hennaux, global market manager for emulsion polymerization, Rhodia Novecare. “As the market is evolving toward zero-VOC systems, new surfactant technologies are needed to maintain high performance. Rhodia has seized this opportunity to create additives that improve resistance in zero-VOC systems. Sustainability is a theme underlying most discussions in the coatings industry. Conversion to APE-free products in picking up in the Americas and Asia.”

Another key trend is cost reduction.

“The principal issue today in the industry remains the economy, the rising cost of oil and chemical raw materials, an issue that causes coatings manufacturers to look for better ways to cut these costs,” said McNair. “Profit margins for coatings are reduced in some cases to about one-half of historical levels, and manufacturers are looking for lower cost sources of chemical raw materials, including products that are normally used in relatively small quantities in a formulation, such as additives and surfactants.

“Coatings manufacturers remain resistant to accepting price increases on raw materials such as pigments and surfactants, even when faced with shortages and allocations,” McNair said. “However, prices of raw materials imported from China, India and other parts of the Far East are entering a new phase of global competition with the trend towards higher prices. It even costs more today to ship raw materials from the Far East to the United States.”

“Changing economies are creating a world of new opportunities for binder technologies and the surfactants that enable them,” said Hennaux. “For example, on one hand you have the rising costs of key raw materials, such as acrylic monomers and titanium dioxide. On the other hand you have an influx of shale gas to the market, which seems like an attractive long-term economic advantage for derived monomer. This changing economic landscape is exciting for paint and coatings manufacturers who can potentially reduce their costs with the help of solution providers like Rhodia. For example, specialty surfactants have been used to enable Vinyl VeoVa, binders to substitute styrene acrylics in high PVC formulations.”

“This is a very exciting time for formulators. At Dow for example, we’re introducing an expanded additives innovation platform that offers much deeper formulating insight including relationships with our binder and opaque polymers,” said Stewart. “Formulators have access to increasingly sophisticated products and accompanying research to help them achieve their objectives. Included are new surfactant offerings that can represent a lower risk, higher yield investment for customers balancing environmental objectives, raw material costs, and performance.”

Dow has been dedicating significant R&D and commercialization emphasis on broadening its Ecosur surfactants portfolio, which balances the ongoing need for high performance with the growing need for low-VOC options. “All of our Ecosurf surfactants are APEO-free; the majority are also readily biodegradable and several are low in aquatic toxicity,” said Stewart.

Ceresana Research Publishes Market Study on Surfactants

According to a new study from Ceresana Research, global demand for anionic surfactants was approximately 6.5 million tons in 2010. Anionic and non-ionic surfactants combined account for roughly 85 percent of global demand for surfactants. The firm expects non-ionic surfactants to see the strongest growth between 2010 and 2018. Despite this global trend towards non-ionic surfactants, anionic surfactants will remain the second-largest product group, especially in Africa, the Middle East and Asia countries, with the exception of Japan and South Korea.

The report analyzes how surfactant consumption will develop in the individual markets. Most important buyers worldwide include manufacturers of household cleaners and detergents. Industrial cleaners accounted for just less than nine percent of global consumption in 2010. Body care products and cosmetics had a 9.5 percent share. Other industrial applications, such as agrochemicals, photo chemicals, oil field chemicals, construction materials, food-stuffs, adhesives, lubricants as well as metalworking, mining, and pulp and paper, accounted for approximately 11 percent of worldwide consumption.

For more information on this study contact Ceresana Research, +49 7531 94293 0; www.ceresana.com.