- Surfactants are compounds that lower the
surface tension of a liquid, the interfacial tension between two
liquids, or that between a liquid and a solid. Surfactants may act
as detergents, wetting agents,
emulsifiers, foaming agents, and dispersants.
- They enable the cleaning solution to fully
wet the surface being cleaned so that dirt can be readily loosened
and removed. They clean greasy, oily, particularly protein and
carbohydrate-based stains. They are instrumental in removing dirt
and in keeping them emulsified, suspended, and dispersed so they
don't settle back onto the surface being cleaned.
- Surfactants are usually organic compounds
that are amphiphilic, meaning they contain both hydrophobic groups
(their tails) and hydrophilic groups (their heads). Therefore, a
surfactant molecule contains both a water insoluble (or oil soluble)
component and a water soluble component.
- Surfactant molecules will diffuse in water
and adsorb at interfaces between air and water or at the interface
between oil and water, in the case where water is mixed with oil.
- The insoluble hydrophobic group may extend
out of the bulk water phase, into the air or into the oil phase,
while the water soluble head group remains in the water phase. This
alignment of surfactant molecules at the surface modifies the
surface properties of water at the water/air or water/oil interface.
- In the bulk aqueous phase, surfactants
form aggregates, such as micelles, where the hydrophobic tails form
the core of the aggregate and the hydrophilic heads are in contact
with the surrounding liquid.
- Other types of aggregates such as
spherical or cylindrical micelles or bilayers can be formed. The
shape of the aggregates depends on the chemical structure of the
surfactants, depending on the balance of the sizes of the
hydrophobic tail and hydrophilic tail.
- Surfactants play an important role as
cleaning, wetting, dispersing, emulsifying, foaming and anti-
foaming agents in many practical applications and products.
- The annual global production of
surfactants was 13 million metric tons in 2008,, and the annual
turnover reached US$24.33 billion in 2009, nearly 2% up from the
previous year. The market is expected to experience quite healthy
growth by 2.8% annually to 2012 and by 3.5 - 4% thereafter.
- The two major surfactants used in the year
2000 were linear alkylbenzene sulphonates (LAS) and the alkyl phenol
ethoxylates (APE). They break down in the aerobic conditions found
in sewage treatment plants and in soil.
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