Current Perspective And Future Outlook

This section summarizes the main points of a recent product report [18], which presented the new products of the detergent industry and its proposed direction in the foreseeable future.

If recent product innovations sell successfully in test markets in the United States and other countries, rapid growth could begin again for the entire soap and detergent industry and especially for individual sectors of that industry. Among these new products are formulations that combine bleaching materials and other components, and detergents and fabric softeners sold in concentrated forms. These concentrated materials, so well accepted in Japan, are now becoming commercially significant in Western Europe. Their more widespread use will allow the industry to store and transport significantly smaller volumes of detergents, with the consequent reduction of environmental risks from housecleaning and spills. Some components of detergents such as enzymes will very likely grow in use, although the use of phosphates employed as builders will continue to drop for environmental reasons. Consumers shift to liquid formulations in areas where phosphate materials are banned from detergents, because they perceive that the liquid detergents perform better than powdered ones without phosphates.

In fuel markets, detergent formulations such as gasoline additives that limit the buildup of deposits in car engines and fuel injectors will very likely grow fast from a small base, with the likelihood of an increase in spills and discharges from this industrial source. Soap, on the other hand, has now become a small part (17%) of the total output of surfactants, whereas the anionic forms (which include soaps) accounted for 62% of total U.S. production in 1988. Liquid detergents (many of the LAS type), which are generally higher in surfactant concentrations than powdered ones, will continue to increase in production volume, therefore creating greater surfactant pollution problems due to housecleaning and spills. (Also, a powdered detergent spill creates less of a problem, as it is easier to just scoop up or vacuum.)

Changes in the use of builders resulting from environmental concerns have been pushing surfactant production demand. Outright legal bans or consumer pressures on the use of inorganic phosphates and other materials as builders generally have led formulators to raise the contents of surfactants in detergents. Builders provide several functions, most important of which are to aid the detergency action and to tie up and remove calcium and magnesium from the wash water, dirt, and the fabric or other material being cleaned. Besides sodium and potassium phosphates, other builders that may be used in various detergent formulations are citric acid and derivatives, zeolites, and other alkalis. Citric acid causes caking and is not used in powdered detergents, but it finds considerable use in liquid detergents. In some detergent formulations, larger and larger amounts of soda ash (sodium carbonate) are replacing inert ingredients due to its functionality as a builder, an agglomerating aid, a carrier for surfactants, and a source of alkalinity.

Incorporating bleaching agents into detergent formulations for home laundry has accelerated, because its performance allows users to curtail the need to store as well as add (as a second step) bleaching material. Because U.S. home laundry requires shorter wash times and lower temperatures than European home laundry, chlorine bleaches (mainly sodium hypochlorite) have long dominated the U.S. market. Institutional and industrial laundry bleaching, when done, has also favored chlorine bleaches (often chlorinated isocyanurates) because of their rapid action. Other kinds of bleaching agents used in the detergent markets are largely sodium perborates and percarbonates other than hydrogen peroxide itself.

The peroxygen bleaches are forecast to grow rapidly, for both environmental and technical reasons, as regulatory pressures drive the institutional and industrial market away from chlorine bleaches and toward the peroxygen ones. The Clean Water Act amendments are requiring lower levels of trihalomethanes (products of reaction of organics and chlorine) in wastewaters. Expensive systems may be needed to clean up effluents, or the industrial users of chlorine bleaches will have to pay higher and higher surcharges to municipalities for handling chlorinecontaining wastewaters that are put into sewers. Current and expected changes in bleaching materials for various segments of the detergent industry are but part of sweeping changes to come due to environmental concerns and responses to efforts to improve the world environment.

Both detergent manufacturers and their suppliers will make greater efforts to develop more "environmentally friendly" products. BASF, for example, has developed a new biodegradable stabilizer for perborate bleach, which is now being evaluated for use in detergents. The existing detergent material, such as LAS and its precursor linear alkylbenzene, known to be nontoxic and environmentally safe as well as effective, will continue to be widely used. It will be difficult, however, to gain approval for new materials to be used in detergent formulations until their environmental performance has been shown to meet existing guidelines. Some countries, for example, tend to favor a formal regulation or law (i.e., the EEC countries) prohibiting the manufacture, importation, or use of detergents that are not satisfactorily biodegradable [28].

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