The SLE research provides a comprehensive update of the existing LCA dataset for major surfactants. This update enables the industry to improve the sustainability profile of its products and processes. The SLE project illustrates the industry’s high level of commitment in the field of sustainability. The updated LCI datasets (in terms of accuracy, completeness, and consistency) for the production of surfactants and their main precursors are made widely available here for the benefit of the industry and stakeholders alike.
There is a significant increase in societal, regulatory and commercial interest in the sustainability profile of products and services. EU resource efficiency initiatives, such as the Product Carbon Footprint [PCF] (single indicator) and Product Environmental Footprint [PEF] (multi indicator), and A.I.S.E.’s Charter for Sustainable Cleaning provide processes and structures through which the detergents industry optimises their sustainability profile.
However, surfactant Life cycle Inventory [LCI] data that are used in Life Cycle Assessment [LCA] studies go back to an industry-wide effort by CEFIC/ECOSOL at the beginning of the 90’s. Such essential data and sustainability assessments are now outdated and do not meet current LCA standards. The update and improvement of existing inventories of surfactant production was urgently needed.
Detergents are one of the main categories where PCFs and PEFs are being piloted (e.g. A.I.S.E. is participating in the EU Commission’s PEF pilot project with liquid laundry detergents). New PCF/PEF standards explicitly require recent and good quality data. This SLE project was therefore initiated by ERASM to evaluate the quality of exiting data and improve the dataset available.
A number of significant differences in the data used today can be expected, following reduced emissions due to innovation in production processes, process optimisation and energy savings across the industry over this 15 year period. In addition, relevant ISO standards for LCA studies introduced in 1997 (ISO 14040) and 1998 (ISO 14041) –i.e. after the surfactant LCI project- have brought further standardised procedures for LCI data collection.
Outcome of research
The SLE research project’s scope was to update the lifecycle inventory data, energy requirements and carbon footprint of commercial surfactant production that were generated in 1995. This involved collecting 32 lifecycle inventories for unit processes, covering 15 surfactants, including 17 precursors (see the master table under SLE publications on the left for a full list), achieved by means of approximately 70 data collections. Compared to the previous exercise in 1995, land use change [LUC] was added as an additional category. The scientific validity of the results has been evaluated by three external peer reviewers that are highly recognised as international LCA experts.