Companies manufacturing and selling cleaning products are being challenged to develop cleaners that pose no risk to people or the environment; a key challenge is finding replacements for phosphates. Chelates have emerged as alternatives which are both effective and sustainable.

High levels of metal ions such as calcium and magnesium in hard water have a powerful influence on chemical processes and the performance of many products. Removing metal ions is therefore a key part of many industrial and domestic processes that use water. For example, if these ions are not removed from your dishwasher, insoluble deposits build up inside your washer, leading to dirtier dishes.

For many years, metal ions were removed by adding phosphates to detergents. However, the phosphorus in phosphates serves as a nutrient, and the deposition of large quantities of phosphates in lakes and waterways induces excessive growth of plants and algae. This excessive growth depletes oxygen and endangers other aquatic life. As a result, phosphates have been phased out around the world.

“The banning of phosphates has led to demand in the market for suitable replacements which have equivalent or better performance but are also readily biodegradable,” explains Peter Kuijpers, General Manager Chelates and Micronutrients. “Chelates are a class of chemicals which have emerged as an effective and sustainable replacement, reducing regulatory pressure on our customers without compromising on performance.”

 

Essential ingredients for cleaning products

Chelates have a unique property: they can form soluble complexes with metal ions. Kuijpers explains, “Chelates are named after the Greek word for ‘crab's claw.’ They can hold on to metal ions like zinc, manganese, and copper and release them when needed. In reverse mode, they can capture and transport the ions away from areas where they are not needed.” This enables them to remove dirt and scale, soften water, and boost cleaning action, making them essential ingredients for cleaning products.

Strong, sustainable chelates for a range of applications

Among the best replacements for phosphates in cleaning products are the chelates tetrasodium glutamate diacetate and trisodium methylglycine diacetate. Marketed by Nouryon under the names Dissolvine GL and Dissolvine M-40, respectively, they can replace phosphates in most cleaning applications and they outperform alternatives like citrates, gluconates, and zeolites because they form stronger bonds with metal ions.

What’s more, Dissolvine GL and Dissolvine M-40 combine excellent performance with a superior ecological profile, since they are readily biodegradable. Dissolvine GL is the eco-friendliest and strongest chelate in our range and is ideal for liquid applications because of its high solubility. Kuijpers explains, “Because it can be highly concentrated, Dissolvine GL has enabled our customers to make products more compact and create value propositions that didn’t exist before.”

Kuijpers continues, “We are one of the leading chelates producers in the world and currently the only company to offer a complete range of readily biodegradable chelates for the household and industrial cleaning market. These enable the formulation of high performing, sustainable cleaning products for a wide range of applications.”

Helping customers stay ahead of competitors and regulations

“Some of our customers are already asking if we can use 100% green carbon, maintain performance, and be readily biodegradable,” Kuijpers says. “Our researchers are continually searching for new insights which will meet our customers’ needs and help them stay ahead of the competition.”

One of our activities in this area is our collaboration with specialty polymers company Itaconix. Together we are developing several applications for the household and industrial cleaning market using their bio-based polymers, which are obtained from sugars through fermentation.

We are also enabling customers to use greener chelates via a series of collaborations. For example, we work with Shanghai Hutchison Whitecat to replace conventional chelates with liquid chelates in their industrial tableware cleaning products, in line with the green upgrade taking place in the cleaning industry in China.

Another example is our cooperation with Chinese firm Anhui Huaheng Biotechnology, a leading producer of building blocks for chelates. Together we aim to build a full green value chain and enhance the use of greener chelates in formulations for various applications.

One customer in China says, “We are poised to transition our full portfolio over to greener raw materials, and Nouyron offers us the product portfolio, expertise, and service we need to create a greener and healthier detergent offering for our consumers.”

“Cleaning products are an essential part of everyday life around the world,” Kuijpers notes. “Replacing traditional products with more sustainable alternatives made with chelates can have a global environmental impact.”