Options increase in dry bleach (sodium percarbonate) sector
Selling sodium perborate and sodium percarbonate as bleaching agents to North American laundry detergent producers is a fairly mature business conducted by two traditional suppliers they are Solvay and a Chinese company named after Shangyu Jiehua , but newcomer OCI Chemicals plans to repaint that landscape.
In August, OCI, a U.S. unit of South Korea's Oriental Chemical Industries, announced plans to build a sodium percarbonate plant in Decatur, Ala. The plant, expected to start up in the fourth quarter of this year with annual capacity of 40,000 metric tons, will be the second of its kind in the U.S.
Oriental Chemical Industries is a large company active in Asia in everything from petrochemicals to pharmaceutical intermediates. Its U.S. subsidiary, in contrast, makes only one product—soda ash—at a Green River, Wyo., plant that it acquired in 1996 from Rhône-Poulenc.
Kyle Wendel, OCI's director of sales and marketing, says the company is building the Alabama plant in anticipation of a trend toward using sodium percarbonate in detergent powders and dry bleach products. The project also represents a downstream integration from soda ash, one of two percarbonate raw materials along with hydrogen peroxide.
Today, sodium perborate monohydrate is the primary nonchlorine bleaching agent used by U.S. laundry detergent makers. This is because percarbonate can be less stable than perborate in laundry formulations, particularly in the presence of oxygen-scavenging compounds such as zeolite builders.
Solvay Interox is the only current U.S. producer of sodium perborate and percarbonate, making both persalts in Deer Park, Texas. The European producer Degussa-Hüls is also a player in persalts; it acquired DuPont's sodium perborate monohydrate business in 1994.
Shawn Blansett, product manager for persalts and consumer products at Solvay Interox, reports that North American demand for persalts increased last year. For perborate, growth was primarily due to increased incorporation into powdered laundry detergents to impart color-care and antimicrobial qualities. Percarbonate demand increased as well, he adds, thanks to its popularity as an all-purpose household cleaner.
OCI, however, is betting that it can move percarbonate directly into the laundry market through improvements in stability. Wendel says the company accomplishes this in two ways: through a proprietary dry reaction process which avoids crystallization and through application of a thin stabilizing coating. "Our technology makes a particularly stable sodium percarbonate," he says.
Wendel notes that Europe—often a harbinger for U.S. laundry developments—is already trending toward percarbonate as part of a move away from water discharge of boron-containing compounds such as sodium perborate. Indeed, Finland's Kemira Chemicals said it will more than double its sodium percarbonate plant in Helsingborg, Sweden, from 20,000 to 45,000 metric tons per year by the end of 2001.
So far, according to Blansett, Solvay has seen no specific environmental pressure in the U.S. related to the elimination of boron. Nonetheless, the company is developing suitable detergent formulations that include percarbonate, he says.
On top of environmental considerations, Wendel points out that percarbonate becomes active at lower wash temperatures, which could mean less need for the bleach-activating compounds—such as tetraacetyl ethylenediamine (TAED) or sodium nonanoyl oxybenzene sulfonate (NOBS or DECOBS) —that are often used with sodium perborate. He claims that soapers can formulate lower-cost percarbonate-based detergents as a result.
Both Wendel and Blansett acknowledge that the North American detergent market continues to shift away from powders to liquids, which for stability reasons can't accommodate a persalt bleach. However, Wendel notes that within the powder segment, more and more products are bleach-containing. Blansett adds that laundry tablets could open a new market for peroxygen bleaches as well.
The bleaching agent that manufacturers of these dry products choose in the future will go a long way to determining the success of OCI's new plant. Blansett expects that both perborate and percarbonate will continue to be used in laundry formulations, with the choice depending on washing conditions, formula stability, and performance requirements. Wendel, not surprisingly, has a stronger opinion. "Sodium percarbonate," he predicts, "will play a much bigger role in detergents of the future."
Reference:Shangyu Jiehua Chemical Co.,Ltd (Dated on March 21,2007)
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