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Published: July 2010
In addition to providing information on the size and growth of surfactant markets, this report provides information on the principal surfactant plant locations and most important product manufacturers, business alliances and corporate activities (the conditions that have driven consolidation), and gives a comprehensive picture of the overall business environment. The report also outlines recent R&D activities and manufacturing issues, discusses how the rise in raw material prices has resulted in low or nonprofitability for many surfactant suppliers, and highlights profitability-impacting factors. It discusses regulations relevant to surfactants, detergents and their ingredients with reference to surfactants that have been affected by different government rules and regulations. It assesses the current and expected trends affecting surfactant consumption, outlines the positive- and negative-acting critical factors, and suggests profitability-improving measures.
The surfactants industry is generally considered complex because of factors such as a broad-range 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 market; and interproducer business relationships and sales.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of surfactants:
Most of the new investment in surfactants is taking place in the ASEAN region and China. 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 and hurdles in building business competitiveness.
Innovation in laundry detergents over the past few years has focused on performance, eco-benefits, fragrance and keeping up with washing machine technology. Average wash temperatures have dropped from around 60°C to 30–40°C, and in some parts of the world to as low as 20°C. Enzyme and catalyst manufacturers are capitalizing on the cold-water trend. In order for detergents to work at lower wash temperatures, more complex surfactant formulations and a carefully balanced blend of components are needed. From the consumption point of view, this development is in favor of enzymes but not surfactants, since it is with enzymes replacing surfactants (in detergents) that the wash temperatures can be lowered without compromising performance.
The trend toward “green” products is by far the largest in developed countries. The focus on the use of renewable resources is growing and the surfactants sector has been responding with new environmentally friendly products. The consumption of “green” surfactants such as alkyl polyglycosides is showing good growth in applications such as light-duty hand dishwashing and personal care.
Higher surfactant prices in 2005–2008, reflecting higher raw material costs (i.e., crude oil, natural gas, and natural oils), resulted in efforts to offset these cost increases by lowering surfactant levels in surfactant-containing preparations such as fabric softeners. After a period of high prices in 2008, surfactant prices started to level off or in some cases slightly declined in the summer of 2008. In 2009, compared with many other chemicals, surfactant prices did not drop much, despite sharp declines in the price of crude oil and plant oils, the ultimate sources of surfactants.
The most important surfactant consuming area is Europe (including 22 countries of Western Europe and 27 countries of Central and Eastern Europe, or 34% of total consumption), followed by North America including the United States and Canada (27%), and China (17%). The highest growth rates in consumption are expected for China, the Middle East (thirteen countries) and Africa (56 countries). The growth rates in other regions vary from low (in the case of Western Europe) to medium (in the case of Latin America, which includes Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela).
Overall growth on a volume basis in the major world areas is expected to average only 2.7% annually over 2009–2014.