Surfactant – 2009 Market Opportunity Study
A Market Opportunity Study Update
Prepared for the United Soybean Board
By: Dwight Rust and Stephen Wildes
Surfactants or surface active agents are broadly defined as organic compounds that can enhance cleaning efficiency, emulsifying, wetting, dispersing, solvency, foaming/defoaming and lubricity of water-based compositions. The annual surfactant demand in the United States is estimated to be 7.7 billion pounds. The largest end use market for surfactants is household cleaning detergents. These are comprised of large volume, lower priced laundry and dishwashing detergent commodity products that account for roughly one-half of the U.S. surfactant market. “Specialty surfactants” are higher-priced, low-volume products used in a broad range of industrial and personal care market applications with annual demand estimated at 2 billion pounds or 26% of the total US surfactant market.
Surfactants are produced from petrochemical (synthetic) feedstocks or oleochemical
(natural) feedstocks. U.S. surfactant production is based on 40% petrochemical and 60%
oleochemical feedstocks. The basic petrochemical feedstocks are ethylene and benzene
which are derived from crude oil and converted to surfactant intermediates ethylene oxide
(EO), linear alkylbenzene (LAB) and detergent alcohols. The basic oleochemical
feedstocks are typically seed oils - palm and coconut – as well as tallow. Raw material
costs for these feedstocks are a prime determinant of surfactant pricing.
The U.S. surfactant market is extremely diverse and includes many primary product
manufacturing industries and segments which are described in this report. Surfactants are
used in formulated products to provide optimum performance.