Issue Date: January 21, 2008
Cognis And Alco Benefit From Natural Chemistry Roots
In the quest to supply cleaning industry customers with ingredients that support environmental claims, certain chemical companies enjoy a leg up.
One of them is Cognis, the former chemical division of Henkel. Like many cleaning product makers, Henkel's roots are in the conversion of tallow into soap. That process evolved into the manufacture of oleochemicals from a variety of fats and oils. Today, Cognis claims that more than 70% of the raw materials it uses are natural and renewable.
Last April, Cognis launched Green Chemical Solutions, a guide to its products that helps customers decide how "green" they want their products to be. An ingredient such as the company's Generol phytosterols is awarded four "leaves" because they are from renewable raw materials and are purified by using only water, alcohol, or energy. Three leaves go to products made from renewable feedstocks with the help of chemical catalysts, while product made from a mixture of renewable and synthetic raw materials get one or two leaves, depending on their ratio of natural to synthetic carbon atoms.
Rita Köster, Cognis' global marketing director for home care and industrial cleaning products, says her customers are increasingly interested in products granted three or four leaves. She points to a survey by the market research firm Datamonitor finding that eight of the top 15 home hygiene products launched in Europe and the U.S. in the second half of 2006 made claims about ethical or environmentally sound sourcing on their packaging.
In addition to having a generally green portfolio, Cognis is benefiting from being the world's largest producer of alkyl polyglucoside (APG) surfactants. Made by reacting a coconut oil-derived alcohol with glucose, APGs rate three leaves. Köster says Cognis' APG sales are growing "well above" 5% per year. Applications include natural spray cleaners such as the Green Works line recently launched by Clorox.
National Starch & Chemical started out in 1889 as a maker of adhesives based on natural polymers. Today, its Alco Chemical subsidiary is making the most of that legacy. According to Dallas Hetherington, Alco's Global Marketing Director for Fabric and Home Care, the company and its parent are experts in both natural and synthetic polymer chemistry. "We have, for years, had active programs focused on using natural products, like starch, and natural/synthetic hybrids to replace, or at least reduce, materials based wholly on petrochemical feedstocks," he says.
In Hetherington's view, sustainability is here to stay as a business and scientific issue. He thinks the public is knowledgeable enough to want a fact-oriented discussion about the effect products have on their health and Earth. "They want to understand what is in the products they use, not just see the green claim on the label," he says.
While concern for the environment is the main driver, he points out that $100 per barrel oil doesn't hurt the cause of natural products, which traditionally sell for a premium. "In today's market, the cost delta between natural and synthetic materials is getting smaller," Hetherington observes.
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