Linear Alkylate Sulfonates
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Published: July 2012
Linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (LAS) is the world's largest-volume synthetic surfactant and is widely used in household detergents as well as in numerous industrial applications.
About 82–87% of LAS is used in household detergents, including laundry powders, laundry liquids, dishwashing liquids and other household cleaners. Industrial, institutional and commercial cleaners account for most of the other applications, but LAS is also used as an emulsifier (e.g., for agricultural herbicides and in emulsion polymerization) and as a wetting agent.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of linear alkylbenzene sulfonate:
LAS competes with several other major surfactants for use in household detergents. Some of the competitive surfactants have greater hard-water tolerance and better compatibility with enzymes and are milder than LAS. Historically, however, LAS has most often been lower in cost and has had other favorable properties compared with competing surfactants. During 2002–2006, very high crude oil prices made LAS far less competitive than had been true in most years since its introduction. During 2007–2011, LAS prices tracked more closely those of the competitive surfactants. This led to a more stable pattern of consumption, even as prices for all surfactants continued to be very volatile. In the developing world, LAS largely competes with branched alkylbenzene sulfonate (BAS) and soaps.
Detergent manufacturers that captively consume LAS account for most of its production. The largest of these detergent manufacturers are Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive, Henkel, Lion and Kao. The latter two operate principally in Japan and other East Asian countries. The balance of LAS production is accounted for by surfactant producers that supply it either to smaller detergent manufacturers that have no LAS production capability or to other end-use market segments, the largest of which comprises industrial and institutional (I&I) cleaning companies.
Although consumption of LAS will likely stabilize or decline slightly in the highly developed regions, it will increase by 2.0–4.0% in the less-developed regions, such as the Middle East and Africa, India, and China, as well as Southeast Asia. As a result of the rapid growth in demand for LAS in the Asia Pacific region, it is expected that by 2016 the region will account for more than 50% of global demand. Worldwide growth in demand for LAS is expected to average about 2% per year during 2011–2016. It will be negatively impacted by the efforts of the detergent manufacturers to reduce the active content in their surfactant formulations.