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Published: August 2013
This study is an overall assessment of the worldwide surfactants business. It provides an up-to-date view of the surfactants industry, products, markets, market participants and relevant issues.
The surfactants industry is generally considered complex because of factors such as a broad-ranging definition of the term surfactants; a large number of suppliers (more than 500 worldwide); numerous product chemistries (more than 3,500), intermediates and blends; a combination of specialty and commodity products and business; a wide range of applications and customer base; variable captive production and merchant markets; and interproducer business relationships and sales.
The most important surfactant-consuming area is Europe (31% of total consumption), followed by North America (United States and Canada, 28%), and China (17%). The highest consumption growth rates are expected for China and Africa. Growth rates in other regions vary from low (in the case of Japan) to above-average (in the case of Latin America and the Middle East). Poor growth in Japan and Western Europe is a reflection of stagnant economies, low population growth (–0.2% and 0.3% per year, respectively, during the forecast period), and to some extent the reduced surfactant concentration in formulations (softeners, detergents, and other washing and cleaning products) either for cost reasons or as a result of the increased efficiency of the washing/cleaning systems. Overall growth on a volume basis in the major world areas is expected to average only 2.6% annually during 2012–2017.
The following pie chart shows consumption of surfactants on a volume basis by major region:
Worldwide, there are substantial differences in detergents from region to region. Western European detergents often have more surfactants, polymers and enzymes than those in Latin America and Asia. North America, Western Europe and Japan remain the traditional net exporters of surfactants. However, new production capacity being built in import-oriented and emerging regions such as the Middle East and China are changing the world's surfactant supply/demand patterns. India went from being a net importer to being a net exporter in mid-2000 and China's switch happened in 2012. Major surfactant producers continue to expand their operations to Southeast Asia, China, Latin America, and Central and Eastern Europe, further increasing their financial stake in the surfactant business. The Middle East is becoming more and more important as a raw material supplier (LAB, etc.) for surfactants.
The household detergents market is mature in North America, Western Europe and Japan, and rapid growth is limited to developing countries including China, India and Latin American countries. The growing popularity of liquid laundry detergents, as opposed to powders, has affected the consumption of surfactants, as the former generally use much higher surfactant levels per wash load. In China, the total production of liquid detergent increased by about 11% from 2009 to 2012, while production of powders increased by less than 3% and that of soaps declined during the same period. In Brazil, powdered detergent accounted for nearly all of the laundry detergent market through 2010. By 2012, liquid detergent accounted for at least 15% of the market. Although a much smaller market than Brazil, liquid detergents in Argentina now make up approximately 35% of the total.
"Green surfactants" are not expected to make a major change in the overall pattern of consumption, as products emphasizing consumer value seem to be more appealing than the benefits of product sustainability. The question remains as to how far green product features could affect customer behavior. In some segments of the market, the "green" label is promoting sales.
More investment and increased supply of oleochemicals are expected, especially in Asia. Most of the new investment in surfactants is taking place in the ASEAN region, China and South America. Asia is seen as the strategic growth area for most global surfactant manufacturers. Overall, surfactant manufacturers, even those in Asia, continue to see their margins eroded by increasing feedstock and energy costs as well as hurdles in building business competitiveness.
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