Croda to manufacture surfactant from ethanol, opening new market

By Susanne Retka Schill | March 25, 2015

Specialty chemical manufacturer Croda Inc. is planning to break ground in April on a $170 million upgrade to its Atlas Point manufacturing site in Delaware. When completed in about two years, the company will begin converting between 10 million and 14 million gallons of ethanol each year into ethylene oxide, opening a new market for U.S. ethanol. Ethylene oxide is the primary chemical used in the manufacture of nonionic surfactants.

“This will be the first facility of its kind in North America,” said Richard Hanson, managing director of performance technologies and industrial chemicals for the U.K.-headquartered specialty chemical company. Currently, Croda rails in ethylene oxide manufactured on the Gulf Coast from petrochemical-based ethane or naptha. Being in the same hazard classification as chlorine and ammonia, Hanson said, “the issues of shipping ethylene oxide by rail may not make that feasible in the future.”

The new facility also fits with the company’s sustainability goals. Hanson reports the Atlas Point site gets 75 percent of its energy from renewables, including landfill gas and solar. Overall, Croda’s 2015 goal its 18 manufacturing facilities worldwide is to get 24.4 percent of its energy from renewable sources, source 100 percent of its palm oil raw materials from sustainable operations and 65.2 percent of all raw materials from renewables. When the company begins manufacturing ethylene oxide from ethanol in Delaware, Hanson said, the portion of renewable raw materials used will top 90 percent.

Croda is a leading manufacturer of surfactants, emulsifiers and demulsifiers, with about half its production bound for consumer products and the other half for industrial uses. Consumer end products include shampoos, lotions and cleaning products. There are a wide variety of industrial applications, Hanson said, including the Tween 80 and polysorbates used by the ethanol industry as corn oil extraction aids.

Customers are increasingly looking for sustainable, renewable materials, Hanson said, and the movement towards nonpetroleum, nonfossil raw materials is gaining momentum. Earlier this year, DuPont announced an agreement to supply Proctor & Gamble with cellulosic ethanol for detergents from its plant nearing construction in Iowa. Croda’s ethanol-to-ethylene oxide facility will be the first in North America, and one of just two or three worldwide. “This will be unique,” Hanson said. “This is enough volume that it will be a game changer. We assume others will go this route, but we will be the first in the market.”