Alkylbenzenes, Linear and Branched
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Published: July 2012
Nearly all linear alkylbenzene (LAB) is converted to linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (LAS), which is a major surfactant in household and industrial detergents. BAB (branched alkylbenzene) is also sulfonated to produce a branched alkylbenzene sulfonate (BAS) that can be used in the same applications as LAS. However, BAS is slow to biodegrade in waste treatment plants and so has been replaced by LAS in household detergent applications in the developed countries.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of linear alkylbenzene:
During 2008–2011, demand for LAB declined substantially in North America with the exception of Mexico, where demand stagnated, while in other world areas like Europe it was flat. Demand in Asia was booming, with the exception of Japan, while in Central and South America consumption of LAB was developing at a healthy rate. It was in Africa that the highest regional growth was registered, as a result of increased availability and the increased adoption of machine washing. Consumption declined moderately in the Middle East.
The highly developed nations in North America, Western Europe and Japan together account for only about 28% of total world capacity. Their share has continued to decline as more plants are being built in the rapidly developing regions of the world to meet the growing demand for synthetic detergents that contain LAS. In most of these countries, growth in consumption of LAB reflects its use in synthetic detergents that are gradually replacing soaps for laundry and dishwashing applications.
Significant capacity additions realized in China over the last few years propelled the companies operating there into the top tier of the leading producers. Over the forecast period, several companies that have announced important capacity increases by upgrading their existing facilities or by building new, grassroots plants will reaffirm their presence as leading LAB producers.
During 2011–2016, demand is expected to increase at a rate of 2% annually, but with significant regional differences. In mature markets like North America, Western Europe and Japan, consumption will be slightly declining, flat or slightly increasing at best. This is a result of the efforts of detergent manufacturers to introduce new products that contain less surfactant per washload; their performance is said to be nearly equal to that of the older products. In recent years, liquid laundry detergents have become more popular with consumers, and therefore, powder laundry detergent (traditionally containing significant amounts of LAS) consumption has been decreasing. On the other hand, regions with still-developing markets, with significantly lower consumption of detergent per capita, like Asia, Central and South America, the Middle East, and Africa, are expected to register an increase in demand of between 1.5% and 3% annually.