For hundreds of years, humankind has been using surfactants for a wide range of processes. From the very first soaps, made by ancient civilizations with olive oil and carbonates found in ashes, to the newest bio-surfactants made through fermentation processes.
It may seem like everything has already been invented in the surfactants market. In industrial sectors as well-established as those that deal with detergents, lubricants, or paints, it may seem like a few general product references, more or less adapted to each sector, can meet practically all the requirements for various applications, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Surfactants are characterised by being molecules with both a lipophilic and a hydrophilic fraction, thus granting them a duality that is both simple and complex, and provides them with a wide range of functions: they can reduce the surface tension of a drop of water on a surface, solubilize perfume in water, generate a dense foam with a specific bubble size, emulsify water in a certain oil type, or disperse a solid product within an oily medium.
For this very reason, surfactants are a product family used for a wide range of applications: the manufacture of detergents and cosmetics, products for treating fibres and textile garments, additives for sectors that use lubricants, coolants, paint, coatings, products from the agrochemical sector, additives for the process of extracting petroleum, gas, or minerals, and other examples.
Though it’s true that in-demand product references evolve slowly in some mass markets (normally as an adaptation to regulatory or legislative changes), the market increasingly demands specific solutions oriented to each application, either for adaptation to new technologies or industrial processes, for end-product sustainability requirements, or simply because applications are increasingly more demanding in terms of technological development.
This trend not only requires different solutions in terms of chemistry, it also demands specific requirements with regard to the quality of the surfactant used, as the requirements for a surfactant intended for manufacturing lubricant for industrial use won’t be the same as those for a detergent for domestic use, or even a shower gel that will come into contact with skin.
On the other hand, it is important to know and understand a product’s complete life cycle (raw material extraction, manufacturing processes, transport and distribution, use, and lastly, degradation within the environment) so as to have a comprehensive vision and be able to keep up with industry growth in a sustainable manner: guaranteeing aspects such as the biodegradability of surfactants, or supporting the acquisition of certifications such as the “ECOLABEL”, granted by the European Union, are some aspects to consider when developing a range of surfactants.
A future full of challenges and opportunities is unfolding ahead of us: producing surfactants from increasingly more renewable raw materials and being less dependent on fossil fuels, the progress in biological production processes compared to synthetic chemical processes, optimisation of formulations by taking advantage of synergies with other ingredients such as enzymes, and the change that digitisation represents in terms of how products that contain surfactants are consumed, are just a few of a myriad of examples.
At Grupo Barcelonesa, we offer the BARTENSID range, a broad portfolio of surfactants that is constantly evolving in order to meet the ever increasing demands of our clients. We maintain constant contact while working with our clients so as to offer the very best solution for every application, and to do so in a stable manner while ensuring the quality, reliability, and uniformity of our supply.