Published February 2015
Nearly all linear alkylbenzene (LAB) is converted to linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (LAS) by sulfonation. LAS is a major surfactant in household and industrial detergents. Branched alkylbenzene is also sulfonated to produce a branched alkylbenzene sulfonate (BAS) that can be used in the same applications as LAS. However, BAS is slow to biodegrade in waste treatment plants; consequently, it has been replaced by LAS in household detergent applications in the developed countries, but it continues to be used in some industrial applications in the developed nations. Its use in household detergent applications has been declining in the less-developed countries as well, because BAS is more expensive to produce than LAS. Branched alkylbenzene is also more expensive than LAB because of tight propylene tetramer supply and price.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of linear alkylbenzene:
Over the forecast period, demand is expected to increase at an average annual rate of almost 2.5%, albeit with significant regional differences. Growth will be driven by healthy demand in India, China, and Indonesia. These three countries consumed 40% of total world LAB demand in 2014. In 2014, consumption of LAB in India was nearly equal to LAB consumption in China. By 2019, consumption of LAB in India is projected to surpass that of China. India still uses a lot of powder detergents whereas liquid detergents are growing in China. If crude oil prices (and consequently the prices of LABs raw materials n-paraffins and benzene) increase significantly during 2014–19, global consumption will likely grow closer to 2%. Additionally, if there is a big switch to competing oleochemical-based surfactants (particularly in the developing regions and primarily as a result of possible lower fatty alcohol prices in the future compared with LAB), this will also negatively affect LAB consumption, as countries like China will switch detergent formulations.
In mature markets, like North America, Western Europe, and Japan, consumption will be slightly declining, flat, or slightly increasing at best. This is a result of the efforts of detergent manufacturers to introduce new products that contain less surfactant per washload. In recent years, liquid laundry detergents have become more popular with consumers, and therefore, consumption of powder laundry detergent (traditionally containing significant amounts of LAS) has been decreasing. On the other hand, regions with still-developing markets, with significantly lower consumption of detergents per capita, like Asia, Central and South America, the Middle East, and Africa, are expected to register an increase in demand between 2% and 4% annually.