An overview of the technology and markets for surfactants from renewable resources


WSA associates


It would appear that throughout the secondhalf of the 21st century the availability of synthetic surfactants like alkyl and alkyl benzene sulphonates, fatty alcohols ethoxylates and alkoxylates, ethylene oxide/propylene oxide random and block copolymers, and many more anionic, nonionic, cationic and amphoteric surfactants, almost tailor made to producespecific effects, distracted the attention of formulators from a broad range of renewable surfactants and diverted the attention from a systematic applied research on their possible uses. This situation is changing,driven by industry and public opinion sensitivity onmatters of renewability/sustainability and by the human safety, environmental impact and sustainability of a number of synthetic surfactants not to mention themany issues raised by REACH. This article provides a definition of renewable surfactants, reviews the majorclasses commercially available and the marketshistorically accessed. It highlights the importance of a systematic formulation/applied research work for abroader use of renewable surfactants to compete cost/effectively with synthetic surfactants, particularly now that the concept of cost/effectiveness is interpreted differently that it only did a few years ago. Finally thefield of biosurfactants is examined, with brief overall considerations on recent technological achievements and of the challenges ahead.