The first surfactant introduced for an environmental cause – LABSA / LAS

Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonic Acid (LABSA), is the world’s most widely used synthetic detergent surfactant. Its salt, Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonates (LAS) serves the same purpose. They were developed as a replacement for the previously widely used detergent surfactant, the highly branched Alkylbenzene Sulfonates. LABSA became the first surfactant that was introduced to improve the environment problems the industry posed.
The replacement was due to the branched Alkylbenzene Sulfonate being resistant to biodegradation by bacteria. In comparison, LAS has a very high level of biodegradation (97 – 99%). Chemical wastes that are persistent in the water bodies after being discharged cause environmental problems. Pollution of the rivers not just cause the toxic water, but more importantly, innocent animals and plants living in the water gets implicated and sacrifices.

Foams in RiverFoaming from persistent chemical waste present in water discharge

LABSA was first introduced in 1964. LABSA is prepared industrially by sulfonating Linear Alkylbenzene (LAB). Sulfonation is done using sulfur trioxide to produce the Sulfonic Acid. Subsequent Sulfonic Acid is neutralised with Sodium Hydroxide to form its sulfonate salt. For this reason, LAB is also called the precursor of LABSA. As LAB is obtained from the feedstocks of crude oil, the LABSA’s market gets affected along with the price trends of crude oil.
In 2002 – 2006 when crude oil prices were high, LAS fared to be less competitive to the other surfactants in the market. The consumption of LABSA stabilised during 2007 – 2011, when its price was closer to the other surfactants. The lower crude oil prices in the last few years have helped LAS to be more competitive in the market.
In recent years, consumption of LABSA in the developed countries have stabilised. Future growth in LABSA’s market is expected in some less-developed regions, such as Middle East, Africa, India, China and Southeast Asia. As countries develop, their standard of living slowly increase along with their spending power. Hygiene will become one of the basics of living and hence the market growth. It is projected that the LABSA / LAS’s growth in Asia – Pacific region will be more than 50% share of the whole global growth.

LABSA World ConsumptionLABSA’s market in the world, 2014

Today about 83-87% of LAS is used in household detergents, including laundry powders, laundry liquids, dishwashing liquids, and other household cleaners. LABSA is also used in agricultural herbicides, emulsion polymerisation, textiles and fibres.
Read about another chemical used for replacement in detergents here.
For more information on chemicals for detergent manufacturing, visit our detergent website.
By: Sinyee

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