Surfactants are chemicals that reduce the surface tension between two liquids, encouraging the two to mix uniformly. Soaps and detergents are arguably the most widely known surfactants and are used to remove fat-soluble dirt and grime in an aqueous solution. Surfactants contain two ends, one reacting more readily with water (hydrophilic and lipophobic) and one reacting with fats (hydrophobic and lipophilic). This allows surfactants to form micelles, which are micro-structures that enclose lipophilic particles inside hydrophobic particles. This blocks the adhesive action of the lipophilic particles, which can then be removed with relative ease.
According to Transparency Market Research, the global specialty surfactants market was valued at US$22.6 bn in 2011. Exhibiting a steady CAGR of 4.3% from 2011 to 2017, the market’s valuation is expected to rise to US$29.2 bn.
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Will Asia Pacific retain its dominance in the global market or is the market set for a change?
Geographically, Asia Pacific was the leading contributor to the global specialty surfactants market in 2011. The dominant share of the Asia Pacific market can be attributed to the increasing demand for personal and household detergents, itself a result of the increasing urban middle-class demographic in Asia Pacific countries such as India, China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. By the end of the 2011-2017 forecast period, Asia Pacific is expected to account for 34% of the global specialty surfactants market’s revenue.
Clariant, a world leader in the chemicals industry, recently introduced a new range of sustainable chemicals for use in India’s expanding home care sector. The innovative range was exhibited at the National Seminar & Convention on Soaps and Detergents in July 2016. The specialty surfactants market in India is still up for grabs, as no leading player has achieved a significant competitive advantage. Clariant’s efforts to make the most of this emerging market are indicative of a larger trend in the specialty surfactants market to focus on emerging economies in the coming years.
On the other hand, the increasingly stringent regulations monitoring the environmental impact of specialty surfactants have held the specialty surfactants market back, as the overwhelming majority of the global specialty surfactants market is comprised of synthetic surfactants, which can leech into the soil and water supplies and pose a health risk to the regional flora and fauna, including humans. While research into biobased surfactants is rising, the segment makes up just about 1% of the global market at present and is set for a lengthy maturation period till biobased specialty surfactants can be commercialized on a large scale.
What are the leading applications of specialty surfactants?
Of the key applications of specialty surfactants, home care and personal care collectively accounted for a whopping 65% of the demand from the global market in 2011. The constant need for soaps and other household cleaners and detergents is likely to drive the demand for specialty surfactants in the coming years, aided by the swift urbanization being observed in Asia Pacific.
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Though Asia Pacific is likely to remain the dominant regional segment of the global specialty surfactants market in the coming years due to the sheer magnitude of its consumption, the solid support to environmental initiatives in North America and Europe is likely to drive the development of biobased surfactants there. This will give multinational companies operating in Asia Pacific a vital edge, as they will be able to implement innovations and advances throughout their product range before regional players.
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