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Published: December 2013
Chelating agents, also known as chelants, complexing, or sequestering agents, are compounds that are able to form stable complexes with metal ions. They achieve this by coordinating with metal ions at a minimum of two sites, thus solubilizing and inactivating the metal ions that would otherwise produce adverse effects in the system on which they are used.
Aminopolycarboxylates represent the most widely consumed chelating agents; the percentage of new readily biodegradable products in this category continues to grow. In 2013, new biodegradable chelating agents represented about 15% of total aminopolycarboxylate demand. By 2018, the percentage is expected to increase to about 21% as new products replace in particular EDTA, NTA and phosphates in detergent and cleaning formulations. The leading classical aminopolycarboxylates are EDTA and DTPA, which account for over 95% of total classical aminopolycarboxylate consumption.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of chelating agents:
The main applications for EDTA and DTPA are in cleaning compounds, pulp and paper, agriculture and water treatment. DTPA is particularly suitable in highly oxidative bleaching systems, hence its use in the pulp and paper industry. This industry has been impacted by both a regional shift in production and a technological shift away from traditional graphical grades to electronic media. Both shifts have had a significant effect on demand for DTPA in Europe and NAFTA over the last five years. HEDTA finds specific uses in agriculture and gas scrubbing, while minor amounts of PDTA are used in traditional photofinishing.
The consumption of NTA has continued to fall; on average the decline has been over 10% annually since 2009. This decline is expected to continue over the forecast period at a reduced rate of 4.8% per year because of continued concerns about toxicity and the requirement to label formulations that contain more than 5% NTA as an active ingredient with the R40 risk phrase (Category 3—limited evidence of a carcinogenic effect). While demand will remain in some applications, formulators are finding increasingly that NTA can be effectively replaced by new alternatives.
The major applications for hydroxycarboxylic acids are in concrete admixtures, industrial and institutional cleaning compounds, metal finishing and agriculture. Global consumption had been increasing rapidly until the onset of the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009, with demand in construction being particularly affected in the United States and Europe, but also in metal finishing with the slowdown in industrial and consumer goods. Demand is once again on the increase, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, China, and Central and South America, all showing above-average growth rates. Consumption of hydroxycarboxylates and organophosphonates is expected to increase annually at 2.9% and 3% per year, respectively, as traditional applications in growth regions and use as replacements for phosphates continue to push demand. Gluconates have an appeal as a more natural, biodegradable product and are benefiting from the move away from phosphates in detergent formulations.
This report investigates the applications and major markets for traditional chelating agents including aminopolycarboxylic acids and salts thereof, hydroxycarboxylic acids and salts thereof, and organophosphonates. In addition, particular attention is focused on the continued growth of more environmentally acceptable chelating agents that show enhanced biodegradability and are able to replace traditional aminopolycarboxylates such as EDTA and NTA, or to replace phosphate builders such as STPP in detergent formulations.