Surfactants are used worldwide on a daily basis, in applications including agriculture, cleaning, personal care, fuels and lubricants, mining and oilfield chemicals, and water treatment. AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals serves the €15 billion specialty surfactants market, and we want to continue to serve the performance demands of these applications in a sustainable manner.
The market is evolving, and with it our customers’ demands as well as their willingness to pay a higher price for more sustainable products. These developments require a flexible toolbox from which we can tune surfactants to meet the needs of a wide range of applications in a sustainable way. For the hydrophobic part of surfactants, we are seeking next generation performance, and we want to replace fatty acid sources such as tallow and palm oil with more sustainable options. For the hydrophilic part of surfactants, we are seeking alternatives to our commonly used ethylene oxide-based solutions, which are typically made from fossil sources. For the connection between hydrophobe and hydrophile, we are looking for new chemistries to broaden our portfolio of tailor-made surfactants.
We are also very interested in new hydrophobes and/or hydrophiles that improve the properties of surfactants, such as foam, cleaning, substantivity, adhesion, emulsification, reduced toxicity, and surface activity.
Lastly, while most of our surfactants are already biodegradable, and most of them are already partly bio-based, not all of them are sustainably sourced; we need to develop a flexible platform based on bio-based, biodegradable, sustainable AND high performing surfactants.
We have explored this field extensively and are reaching the limits of sustainability and performance with our current technologies. Costs are a critical factor - the path towards an affordable product should be reasonable in terms of development costs and time. Also, there is no single solution - specialty applications require tunable properties.
Our ultimate goal is to find a flexible platform that is fully sustainable – that is, bio-based, biodegradable, and zero footprint – and suitable for many applications. This will be based on three technology building blocks: a hydrophilic component (free of ethylene oxide), a hydrophobic component, and a component which links the two. The hydrophilic and hydrophobic components need to be tunable for different applications. The platform should be scalable and affordable over the long-term.
We are not looking for new process technologies to produce current surfactants, nor are we looking for a nanotechnology approach.
If you think you can help us build a flexible surfactant platform and realize our vision of having a zero-footprint surfactants business, we welcome you to join our Challenge on our Imagine Chemistry Challenge platform - open from January 10 - for open and collaborative innovation.