The global surfactant market size was valued at USD 45,998.13 million in 2022. It is estimated to reach USD 68,919.09 million by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 4.7% during the forecast period (2023–2031).
Surfactants, also called surface-active agents, are ubiquitous and the most versatile ingredient of the chemical industry. It decreases the surface tension between two liquids or between a solid and a liquid, enhancing the spreading and contacting properties of the substance. They are utilized for dispersing aqueous suspensions of insoluble dyes and fragrances. The surface-active molecule must be partially lipophilic (soluble in lipids or oils) and partially hydrophilic (water soluble). As an emulsifying or foaming agent, it concentrates at the interfaces between bodies or droplets of water and those of oil or lipids.
Surfactants are produced either from synthetic or natural raw materials called feedstock. Synthetic feedstocks are produced from oil, gas, or chemical processing, whereas natural surfactant feedstock is produced from plant oil, primarily coconut oil and palm kernel. Surfactants are used in almost all FMCGs, including all cleaning and detergent products, personal care products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and food and beverages. Different surfactants that are less hydrophilic and more lipophilic could be utilized as demulsifiers or defoamers. Certain surfactants have antimicrobial, fungicidal, and insecticidal properties. Surfactants produce aerosols, ore flotation, oil flow promotion in porous rock, and corrosion inhibition.
Agrochemicals such as pesticides and insecticides are specialty chemicals used in agriculture to protect the crop from pests & insects and enhance yield quality. The increasing global population and demand from the need to achieve food sufficiency are the fundamental factors that will continue to drive growth in the agrochemical industry. Globally, agricultural productivity has always been a key concern, thus driving significant research efforts. Agrochemical vendors are increasing their focus on innovation and spending a sizeable proportion of their revenue toward crop protection.
Surfactants are one of the main components of agrochemicals. In agriculture, surfactants help the farmer to use pesticides more efficiently. Surfactants minimize surface tension, so the pesticides keep the spray on the targeted area rather than mixing into the water. Therefore, agricultural surfactants improve the proficiency of pesticides, thereby driving market growth. In 2020, the world population was 7.7 billion; by 2050, the world population is anticipated to reach 9.7 billion. So, with the growing population across the globe, the demand for food products will directly impact the agrochemicals and surfactants market.
Various microorganisms produce biosurfactants. They exhibit unique properties, i.e., lower toxicity, high biodegradability, and environmental compatibility compared to their chemical counterparts. Biosurfactants are mainly classified based on their chemical structure and microbial origin. The major classification of biosurfactants includes glycolipids, phospholipids, polymeric biosurfactants, and lipopeptides. The main driver of biosurfactants is the growing awareness of environmental concerns, regulatory compliance, and fluctuating oil prices.
Growing consumer awareness of the environmental hazards resulting from the use of chemical surfactants is leading to the increased demand for biosurfactants. Furthermore, there is a growing demand for high-quality and skin-friendly products such as detergent, shampoo, conditioner, lip products, hand soap, and other personal care products. However, by 2030, the market for biosurfactants will flourish, and the overall demand for them will strongly depend on industrial activity in detergents and cosmetics, where environmental concerns are more prominent. Therefore, the growing consumption of bio-based surfactants owing to their environmental benefits drives the global market growth.
Surfactants are derived from petrochemical or natural feedstock such as plant oils, especially coconut and palm kernel oil. Synthetic surfactant raw materials include propylene trimer and tetramer, ethylene oxide, and dodecyl benzene. These raw materials are obtained from crude oil. In addition, the price of crude oil is uncertain as it frequently fluctuates, directly impacting the price of surfactants and affecting the cost of detergent, shampoo, conditioner, laundry detergent, and personal care products. As many FMCG players in the market offer these products, it becomes difficult for them to change the price due to the competitive factor and the presence of local players offering the same at a lower price. This creates a hindrance to market growth.
Over the past years, the food and beverage industry has experienced significant growth. This growth is mainly attributed to the strong development of the industry and innovations, which have further enhanced consumption and spending. Similarly, there has been a shift in food consumption patterns from unprocessed foods to processed and ultra-processed foods due to a hectic lifestyle, which led to the decline in cooking and the growing trend of packaged foods.
In the food and beverage industry, surfactants are used as an emulsifier, which plays a key role in creating and stabilizing the structure of the food. Lecithin, a natural emulsifier, is found in egg yolk and added to bakery products, margarine, cakes, cookies, and chocolate. These emulsifiers are obtained from vegetable and animal fats and are safe for health because they are easily digestible and do not cause negative effects after absorption. Moreover, with the growing awareness of healthy food, people prefer organic food, leading to an increased demand for bio-surfactants that have high biodegradability and lower toxicity and activity at extreme temperatures and act as antimicrobial and antiadhesive agents. Such factors create opportunities for market expansion throughout the forecast period.
The global surfactant market is segmented by type and end-user.
Based on type, the global surfactant market is bifurcated into anionic, non-ionic, cationic, and amphoteric.
The anionic surfactant segment dominates the global market and is expected to exhibit a CAGR of 4.70% over the forecast period. Anionic surfactants are the most widely used and used in cleaning products such as dishwashing liquids and shampoo. An anionic surfactant carries a negative charge that gives it a hydrophilic effect. This negatively charged part of the molecule constitutes sulfonates, sulfates, or carboxylates that are neutralized by positively charged metal cations like sodium or potassium. It enables the removal of dirt, stains, and oily residues from surfaces. Linear alkyl benzenesulfonates are the most used anionic surfactant in wastewater systems and river water. With the growing population, the demand for household detergent is rising, which, in turn, is boosting the demand for anionic surfactants. Furthermore, the soaring demand for personal care products and the growing demand for pharmaceutical products is raising the demand for anionic surfactants.
Non-ionic surfactants do not constitute an electrical charge and are often used with anionic surfactants. They are superior to anionic surfactants for removing organic soils and grease and are excellent at emulsifying oils. Anionic and non-ionic surfactants are frequently used in combination. As a result, most cleaning products contain non-ionic, anionic, or a combination of both surfactants. Non-ionic surfactants, also referred to as cloud points, have a unique property. The non-ionic surfactant begins to phase-separate from the cleaning solution at a temperature known as the cloud point. The cleaning agent then turns hazy as a result. The ideal detergency temperature is this one. When it comes to low foaming cleaners, the cloud point is where detergency is at its best; when it comes to foaming cleaners, the cloud point or the beginning of it is where detergency is at its best. Therefore, the agitation of low-foaming cleaners is enough to prevent phase separation.
Based on end-user, the global surfactant market is segmented into household detergent, textile, personal care, oilfield chemicals, construction chemicals, food processing, industrial and institutional cleaner, pulp and paper, paints and coatings, and others.
The household detergent segment owns the highest market share and is estimated to exhibit a CAGR of 5.19% during the forecast period. The household detergent market includes laundry detergents, dishwasher detergents, pre-spotters, carpet cleaners, and fabric softeners. The main purpose of using surfactants in detergents is to remove dirt and stains from fabrics. In addition, household detergents consume almost half of the total surfactant demand. Fabric softener surfactants are either included in the final rinse or as dryer sheets to dry the wet clothes in dryers. In dishwasher detergents, surfactants are used for wetting surfaces to remove the soil.
Personal care products cover a wide range of products such as skin care (creams, lotions, petroleum jelly, and sunscreen), hair care (hair oil, hair gel, conditioner, and shampoo), cosmetics (shampoo, dye, face cream, moisturizer, perfume, concealer, and many more), and oral hygiene products (toothbrush, tongue scrapers, gum stimulators, and flossing, among others). In addition, personal care products are used daily and are made from ingredients extracted from natural and synthetic sources. Surfactants are the utmost ingredient of personal care products. From daily shower to bath routines and keeping our skin healthy and protecting teeth and nails, surfactant plays a vital role in enabling these products to perform their role safely and efficiently. Different types of surfactants are used in personal care applications, each displaying different performance or aesthetic properties.
Based on region, the global surfactant market is bifurcated into North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East and Africa.
Asia-Pacific is the most significant global surfactant market shareholder and is expected to exhibit a CAGR of 5.05% during the forecast period. Rapid urbanization, rising disposable incomes, and growing industrialization in food, cosmetics, agriculture, textile, electronics, and other manufacturing sectors are creating a huge demand for surfactants in Asia-Pacific. Furthermore, the market is being enhanced by the availability of cheap labor and raw materials. China, India, Japan, and Singapore have been the major markets for investment in the past couple of years and will continue to be the major markets. Rising disposable incomes, strong economic growth, growing construction activities, and the dominance of agricultural activities have primarily supported market growth in the region. Additionally, a strong manufacturing hub for agrochemicals, dyes and pigments, detergents, hand sanitizers, soaps, and personal care products, as well as the availability of cheap labor and lower production costs, make India an increasingly important market for investors from both abroad and locally. This is especially true given that China and Japan are the largest surfactant markets in the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, the "Make in India" initiative and the recently launched campaign "Vocal for Local" are expected to add momentum to the emergence of India as a leading market for surfactants.
North America is estimated to exhibit a CAGR of 4.28% over the forecast period. North America is the fastest-growing market for surfactants. The COVID-19 outbreak has increased the demand for hygiene products such as hand sanitizers and liquid soap. The growth in hygiene products such as hand sanitizers, liquid soap, detergents, personal care products, construction, paints and coatings, agriculture, textile, and bio-based products drives the market for surfactants in North America. In addition, the growing demand for personal care and home care products, increasing demand from numerous applications, and rising biobased products contribute to North America's significant growth of surfactants. The strong economic growth, demand for green housing, and substantial investment by the federal and state government to boost residential buildings are contributing to the growth of construction chemicals and paints and coatings in the US, which will drive the demand for surfactants. However, stringent government regulations regarding the environment and health will likely hinder growth in the forecast period.
Europe is one of the largest and wealthiest economies and is home to the most developed regions, such as the UK, France, Italy, and Spain. The key factors contributing to the demand for surfactants in Europe are the growing demand from end-user industries such as construction, personal care products, food additives, textile, and agriculture. In Europe, household detergents and personal care are the dominating segments by application. However, government regulations and increasing demand for bio-based surfactants are significantly driving the growth of oleochemicals. In addition, oleochemicals are made from organic materials like fats and oils from plants or animals. They are generally less toxic than petrochemicals, gaining popularity as substitutes for petroleum-based products.
Latin America is the net exporter of food and agricultural commodities, accounting for over 16% of global food and agricultural exports and 4% of the total food and agricultural imports. In 2020, Brazilian agricultural exports grew by 17.5% in the first four months of April compared to last year's period. There was an increase in exports to Asia, especially to China. So, with the increasing agricultural activities, the demand for surfactants is expected to increase in the forthcoming years. Another major application of surfactants in Latin America is construction chemicals. Construction production is anticipated to increase by an average of 2.6% annually between 2019 and 2022. So, with the current opportunities in the construction industry, the surfactant market will rise in the forecasted period.
In the Middle East and Africa, the surfactant market is driven by the consumption of surfactants in oilfields, paints and coatings, construction, and agricultural activities. Increased investments by the government to expand oil & gas reserves are creating opportunities for players in oilfield chemicals to invest in the Middle East and Africa. For instance, in August 2020, the energy minister of Saudi Arabia announced the discovery of two oil and gas fields.
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