Cleaner washing: growing market for biobased surfactants

Surfactants are among the first everyday chemical products that are already being produced in large quantities not from petroleum but from renewable raw materials.
KONSTANZ, Germany - Dec. 5, 2023 - PRLog -- Biotechnology for the bathroom: Household cleaners and creams are increasingly being produced using bacteria and fungi, more specifically the ingredients rhamnolipids and sophorolipids. But microorganisms in bioreactors are not necessarily the answer – traditional natural detergents are also being rediscovered, such as horse chestnuts or soap nuts. Ceresana has studied the global market for surfactants produced in whole or in part from renewable biomass, i.e. based on sugar, fatty alcohol from vegetable oils or other biogenic material. The new market study forecasts that bio-based surfactants will reach global sales of around USD 34 billion by 2032. In North America and Europe, the market researchers expect growth of more than 3%, and in other regions of the world even more than 6%.

Biobased cleaning agents for households and industry

Surfactants enable water and oil to mix, they can form foam and facilitate the detachment of dirt. Washing powders and liquid detergents largely consist of surfactants. These chemicals are also used, for example, as emulsifiers in cosmetics, as dispersants in paints and printing inks, as antistatic additives in plastics and textile fibers, or as wetting agents in fertilizers and crop protection products. Surfactants can be found in toothpaste as well as in cooling lubricants, extinguishing foam, disinfectants and contraceptives. Industrial applications include the extraction of crude oil and the mining of ores. The most important sales market for biobased surfactants is household detergents and cleaning agents, which currently account for around 43% of global sales. They are followed by personal care products, cosmetics and industrial cleaning agents.

Sugar as an alternative to petroleum

All surfactants consist of a water-repellent and a water-attracting part, both of which can be biobased. Sugar surfactants, for example, can be composed of coconut or palm oil fatty alcohols and glucose or sorbitol. The properties of surfactants depend primarily on their electrical charge. Ceresana analysts expect the greatest growth for non-ionic surfactants, which carry no charge. These include alkyl polyglycosides (APGs), currently the most important sugar surfactants: They can be produced entirely from plants, are less sensitive to hardness than anionic surfactants, are already effective at lower temperatures and are considered to be more compatible with the environment and health. APGs could become an alternative to the surfactants that are still most commonly used today: the anionic linear alkylbenzene sulfates (LAS). They foam strongly and have high washing power but are produced from petroleum and are not fully biodegradable.

Further information about the market study "Biobased Surfactants":

Martin Ebner
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