Demand for natural wax increases

Doris De Guzman


Natural waxes gain as petroleum-based products wane from dwindling supply and high feedstock costs

Renewable alternatives to wax are enjoying new opportunities as a result of a raft of factors. Among these are a dwindling supply of petroleum-based waxes, skyrocketing paraffin wax prices, and a growing consumer preference for greener products.

In the candle market, where 50% of the global wax supply is being consumed, companies are already making the move to vegetable-based materials such as soybean oil, palm oil, beeswax, and even tallow.

Vegetable-based waxes account for only 2% of global wax demand, and animal-based waxes 1%, according to US-based management consultancy firm Kline. Petroleum-based waxes account for 87% of demand, while synthetic waxes hold 10% of the market.

“There will always be a need for petroleum-based waxes but significant growth in the market over the next 10-15 years will come from non-petroleum waxes, which we expect will grow to nearly one-fourth of the total supply by 2020,” reports Kline in its study, Global Opportunities and Threats in the Wax Business 2006-2020.

Performance concerns about renewable-based wax formulations previously deterred their wider use in major applications such as candles and corrugated boxes. However, new technology developments are overcoming these challenges, says Andy Shafer, executive vice president of sales and market development at newly formed US specialty chemical company Elevance Renewable Sciences.

“Elevance products and technology can overcome the limitations of traditional vegetable waxes – such as brittleness and cracking – and enable them to compete in a broader and bigger portion of the industry,” says Shafer.

Elevance, which supplies NatureWax products in the US, formed a joint marketing alliance with Cargill Refined Oils Europe last April. The venture will develop and supply new vegetable-based waxes for European candle and corrugated packaging manufacturers.

US-based agricultural product giant Cargill supplies vegetable-based waxes in Europe through its Strahlux brand.

“By partnering with Cargill, we can bring the advanced performance that Elevance’s new technology has to help offset the declining supply of paraffin products to the European market faster,” says Shafer.

Elevance roughly estimates total European wax demand at around 2bn lbs (900,000 tonnes)/year. Paraffin wax accounts for more than 1.8bn lbs of European wax consumed, while less than 50m lbs are natural-based waxes, says Shafer.

The rest of the waxes consumed are synthetic-based, which include Fischer-Tropsch and polyethylene (PE) waxes.

“About 25% of EU waxes are imported to meet demand, mostly as petroleum waxes and finished candles,” says Shafer. He adds that the market value for European wax now exceeds $1bn (€647m), because average wax prices are now higher than 50 cents/lb.


The interest of US-based consumer products company Clorox in beeswax-based cosmetic and toiletry products, with its $1bn acquisition of US personal care-products company Burt’s Bees late last year, signals the rising demand for natural-based waxes in the beauty market.

Dow Corning, a US-based specialty chemical company, says interest has been increasing in its new soy wax and soy wax blends for cosmetic and toiletry formulations since their US launch in May. The products are being marketed as alternatives to petrolatum and will be rolled out globally in the coming months.

“The soy wax blend represents a timely and cost-effective solution when both consumers and the marketplace are looking for alternative solutions,” says Yan Cortes, global new market development leader at Dow Corning.

Cortes points out the limited future availability of petrolatum – a widely used low-cost ingredient in personal care products – and petrolatum’s likely cost increases associated with tightening supply.

“Today, more than ever, formulators need new ingredient alternatives but with effective function and sensory properties,” says Cortes. “Natural products continue to grow in popularity and economic realities point to the need for sustainable materials,” she adds.

The cosmetics industry has been particularly interested in organic certified waxes, says Steven Puleo, research and development vice president at US-based natural wax supplier Koster Keunen.

In the past 12 months, more companies have been asking for organic certified waxes to fulfill the niche marketing claims of small and medium-sized cosmetic companies, notes Puleo.

“The larger companies that are already selling natural-based products are beginning to test the organic market,” he says. “Cosmetics companies have the ability to use much more expensive raw materials and justify it through marketing. In many cases, organic certified beeswax is two to three times more expensive than natural beeswax.”


Brazilian natural wax producer Foncepi Comercial Exportadora has been offering organic carnauba wax since the company acquired certification last year. And the firm says enquiries for the products in cosmetics and food applications continue to increase.

Overall demand for its carnauba wax from Asia, Europe and the US has increased recently, says Foncepi export director Ana Carolina Fontenele.

The company has been receiving new formulation suggestions from customers for applications in candles, floor cleaning, and shoe polishes, she says.

“With the supply and pricing crisis in the petroleum derivatives industry, we expect further gains for carnauba wax in the months ahead and we are prepared to attend their needs,” says Fontenele.

Other carnauba wax producers in Brazil have not been as enthusiastic, and are not seeing an increase in demand relating to the price rise in petroleum-based waxes.

Total global demand for carnauba wax last year was said to have been flat, at around 15,468 tonnes. The continued increase in global paraffin wax prices has also not affected carnauba wax pricing, say officials from producers Tropical Ceras do Brasil and Pontes Industria de Cera.

“The carnauba market remains a buyer’s market because of excessive competition between most Brazilian wax refiners,” says Marc Jacob, owner and president of Tropical Ceras do Brasil. Foreign importers also continue to rein in price increases, Jacob adds.

The company estimates Brazilian carnauba wax exports from January to June this year to be recorded at a total of 7,635 tonnes – almost the same as last year.

“Shipments for the second half of the year tend to be a little higher, so it is possible to expect some increase, but not that much,” Jacob adds.

Several producers estimate current domestic carnauba wax prices, FOB (freight on board) Brazil, at a range of $2.75 to $3/lb for Type 1, and for Type 3 at around $2.20-2.50/lb.

Type 1 carnauba wax is usually used for food and cosmetics, says Foncepi’s Fontenele.


Underlining the pains of petroleum wax consumers are this year’s announced facility closings from US-based producers CITGO and Marathon Petroleum.

In late April, Marathon said it would permanently leave the wax market by shutting down its base oil and slack wax units at its Catlettsburg, Kentucky, US, plant before the end of the year. The facility has total wax capacity of 176m lbs (80,000 tonnes)/year, according to the 2007 wax survey by the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA).

In June, CITGO confirmed that it would cease production of lubricants and waxes at its 196m lb/year plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana, US, also before the end of 2008.

CITGO said the shutdown was because of the decline in demand for Group I lube base stocks, and that the plant is not operating profitably. The company is seeking potential buyers for the facility.

US-based petroleum and petrochemicals producer Sunoco is also evaluating offers for its Tulsa, Oklahoma, US, facility, and plans to make a decision by the third quarter. The facility’s wax capacity totals 227m lbs/year, according to the NPRA. In Germany, global oil major Shell plans to cease wax production at Grasbrook. The plant’s reported capacity was 55m lbs/year.

Last year, US-based fuel producer Flying J shut down its 248m lb/year wax facility in Salt Lake City, Utah. According to the NPRA survey, there were nine companies producing petroleum waxes in the US at the start of 2008 compared with 18 in 1990.

By the end of 2007, the NPRA estimates that total US wax capacity, including Flying J’s facility, was 2.4bn lbs/year.

Read Doris de Guzman’s green chemistry blog


Global News + ICIS Chemical Business (ICB)

See the full picture, with unlimited access to ICIS chemicals news across all markets and regions, plus ICB, the industry-leading magazine for the chemicals industry.

Contact us

Partnering with ICIS unlocks a vision of a future you can trust and achieve. We leverage our unrivalled network of industry experts to deliver a comprehensive market view based on independent and reliable data, insight and analytics.

Contact us to learn how we can support you as you transact today and plan for tomorrow.