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Published: January 2013
Detergent alcohols and their derivatives are widely used as raw materials in the production of surfactants for laundry and dishwashing detergents, other household cleaners and shampoos, and various industrial applications. The most prominent end-use applications for detergent alcohols are as follows:
- Household detergents
- Industrial and institutional cleaners
- Personal care products (shampoos, soap, shower gels)
- Polymers and plastics processing (polymerization aid, plasticizers, antioxidants, release agents)
- Lube oil additives (pour-point depressants, viscosity index improvers)
- Metalworking fluids (welding, metal preparation and fabrication)
- Oil field chemicals (downhole mining, high-temperature- and high-pressure-resistant surfactants)
- Water and wastewater treatment chemicals
The following pie chart shows world consumption of detergent alcohols:
The detergent alcohol industry has gone through three business cycles over the past fifteen years, as follows:
- The huge buildup of natural alcohol capacity in Southeast Asia in the mid-1990s led to a consolidation in Europe, North America and Japan and to a substitution from tallow- to vegetable oil–based products.
- New mainly synthetic-based capacity came onstream during 2001–2004.
- A second surge of natural alcohol capacity buildup in Southeast Asia and China occurred during 2007–2012, driven by persistent high oil prices and the biodiesel excitement.
Over the last few years production of detergent alcohols has declined in developed regions like North America, Western Europe and Japan, as new producers started up operating facilities in countries in developing regions like South Africa, Brazil, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. With capacity expected to continue to grow faster than consumption on a global level, overall capacity utilization is forecast to decline through 2017. As a consequence, another round of industry consolidation is expected.
Demand growth for fatty alcohols and their derivatives is usually at or slightly below average GDP growth. The current economic outlook anticipates declining growth for Europe in 2012 and 2013 (–0.4% and –0.3%, respectively), with growth through 2017, at 1.4%, expected to remain well behind that of the United States and Japan, at 2.9% and 2.2%, respectively, through 2017. World GDP growth will reflect the slowdown in Europe and the somewhat declining growth rates in Asia and is forecast at 3.7% through 2017. Therefore, growth in the global consumption of detergent alcohols will be limited to about 3.2% annually during 2012–2017.