Editor Note: Backed by a range of efficient green adjuvants and precision service, especially its strong application-oriented and value-added services, SINVOCHEM has been successfully developing overseas markets in recent years and is now planning its footprints in the European and the US markets. With the completion of its Phase II project (functional polyether dispersant) and the government approval of Phase III project (a production line with an annual capacity of 80,000 tons of functional dispersants), the company’s agro adjuvant portfolio shall become more diverse. Furthermore, its two R&D centers located in Nanjing and Yangzhou, as well as its application evaluation-oriented laboratories in major market regions, will provide its customers with quality products and timely services, assisting the company with its ambition to become a global supplier of green agro adjuvants.
The author has interviewed for three consecutive years with Dr. James Qin, CTO and founder of SINVOCHEM and witnessed continuous progress SINVOCHEM has made. In the most recent interview, Dr. James Qin highlighted SINVOCHEM’s core competencies, the progress of its latest projects, its multi-scenario application-oriented product development, precision services, and planning for the next 10 years. He also shared his insights on status quo and future trend of the global agrochemical adjuvant sector, as well as the challenges and countermeasures concerning the international formulation industry.
Dr. James Qin
CTO and founder of SINVOCHEM
Can you tell us about the current situation and future trends of the global agro adjuvant sector? And what is the market positioning of SINVOCHEM in this sector?
In 2020, the Chinese government set the objective of achieving carbon peaking by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060, which accelerates a global need to upgrade conventional agro formulations, such as EC and WP, towards environment-friendly formulations, such as SC, EW, DF, OD and CS. In addition, with increasing labor costs, the use of UAV or large spray mechanics has increased. This requires mixing of different pesticides or pesticides and fertilizers and leads to an increased concentration of pesticide spray. Moreover, with commercialization of new agrochemical molecules more time-consuming, more focus is placed on measures such as changes to pesticide formulation types, compounding and modifications to the interface properties of formulations. Formulation processing is developing towards an automation and labor-saving objective, such as use of techniques of wet grinding based spray granulation and microfluidic continuous microencapsulation. These developments and changes pose new challenges to the production of agrochemical adjuvants, requiring adjuvant suppliers to develop products adapted to various application scenarios.
Agrochemical adjuvant suppliers can be divided into three groups. The first group are those that only supply surfactants of one certain chemistry, such as non-ionic polyether, alkyl glycoside, alkyl polyether sulfate, naphthalene sulfonate formaldehyde condensate, sodium olefin sulfonate and lignosulfonate. These surfactants are supplied more to other industries other than pesticide. The second group of suppliers are those that supply adjuvants for EC, ME, EW, non-challenging SC and OD with limited technical support. Normally this group of suppliers offer calcium alkyl benzene sulfonate, conventional non-ionic and modified (phosphate esterification or sulphonation) anionic/non-ionic surfactants. The third group of suppliers possess stronger technical support capabilities, normally having an established application scenario-oriented evaluation system and adjuvant synthesis team to provide adjuvants that meet the needs of various application scenarios. Take SINVOCHEM as an example, it has an adjuvant evaluation platform that can simulate the formulation processing and application scenarios of formulated products. Besides, it is also equipped with a fully innovative platform for the synthesis of polycarboxylates and naphthalene sulfonates. Both platforms enable SINVOCHEM to provide timely and accurate scenario-based services to its customers.
By continuing to provide its customers with application scenario-oriented and other value-added services, SINVOCHEM is already a leading supplier of agro adjuvants in China. With products already exported to South America, Eastern Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia and South Asia, SINVOCHEM also initiated product registration with the US EPA and ECHA to become a truly global supplier of green pesticide adjuvants. Sinvochem keeps collaborating closely with its customers to realize its objective of “better delivery of pesticide efficacy”.
Can you introduce SINVOCHEM’s business from the perspectives of R&D, production, technical service, team background, as well as its core competencies? What is its planning for the next 10 years?
SINVOCHEM is a high-tech enterprise dedicated to the research and development of adjuvants for use in agro formulations, with product covering polycarboxylates, naphthalene sulfonates, phosphates and sulfates. SINVOCHEM has two R&D centers in Nanjing and Yangzhou, and long-term industry-university collaborations with some leading universities. SINVOCHEM has undertaken or participated in some national and provincial research programs, being delegated to build the provincial polymer R&D platform and a formulation application-oriented R&D platform. SINVOCHEM owns a robust pesticide adjuvant synthesis platform, formulation preparation and evaluation platform, and a droplet transmission simulation and evaluation platform. With its synthesis and application process digitalized, the provision of value-added services to its customers is enhanced further (Figure1).
Figure1. Interface performance evaluation laboratory
SINVOCHEM’s core competency lies in its effective organizational management, which supports talent cultivation and the provision of technical services and production. Located in Yangzhou Chemical Industrial Park, SINVOCHEM managed to ensure a stable supply of products and services during many rounds of workplace safety and environmental compliance inspections and the COVID-19 pandemic. SINVOCHEM has independently hosted four sessions of the Industry Elite Seminar, under the theme “Better delivery of pesticide efficacy”. It also hosted “Formulation problem solving” workshops for five consecutive years. In 2021, for the first time, SINVOCHEM gathered research institutes, formulators, technical manufacturers and adjuvant manufacturers to jointly study the relationship between active ingredients, adjuvants, processing techniques, targets of action and application methods to make “better delivery of pesticide efficacy” possible. Thank to the hard work of SINVOCHEM’s research team and talented scientists, as well as the joint efforts of industry expert groups, SINVOCHEM’s process of wet grinding-based spray granulation and the continuous microfluidic granulation of pesticide microcapsules, as well as its adjuvants for SC and WDG are in the leading position of the industry.
In the next 10 years, SINVOCHEM aims to become a globally respected agrochemical adjuvant supplier. SINVOCHEM will continue to work closely with pesticide manufacturers to realize its objective of “better delivery of pesticide efficacy”.
Can you tell us about the progress of your new projects and the significance of new investments to the company’s development?
Designed to further enrich its product portfolio and expand capacity, SINVOCHEM’s Phase II project (functional polyether dispersant) is about to operate, with product range covering all major adjuvant varieties. Meanwhile, its Yangzhou R&D Center will be upgraded to establish a more complete evaluation system, which will facilitate more effective research and development of applications of adjuvants to meet the objective of “better delivery of pesticide efficacy”.
Phase III project to produce annually 80,000 tons of functional dispersants has been approved by the government, which will further expand the company’s polycarboxylate and naphthalene sulfonate capacity and achieve a higher level of automation and work safety standards. Its construction is expected to begin in 2023 and is scheduled for completion and operation in 2025 to realize full coverage of major adjuvant varieties. The company’s two R&D centers in Nanjing and Yangzhou, as well as its application evaluation-oriented laboratories in major market regions will provide its customers with more products of stable quality, as well as reliable and timely services.
How does Sinvochem solve long term stability problem with formulations, when technicals on the market are often quite different in quality?
The dislocation between technical production and formulation development and the rise in production cost due to environmental compliance makes quality fluctuation of technicals a common issue. It is mainly manifested in unstable content of actives and a higher level of impurities, which cause difficulties to the formulation processing and creates problems such as easy decomposition, creaming, increased particle size and lower suspensibility in spray liquids with low dilutions. SINVOCHEM uses its TGA, TA, HPLC and XRD, ZETA potential analyzer and electric conductivity tester to collect information on the physical properties or impurity profile of technicals. Meanwhile, diversified structures of polycarboxylate dispersant (achieved by using different vinyl monomers) makes it possible to design an adjuvant suitable for a specific technical, thereby to facilitate the formulation process. For example, the weak cationic polycarboxylate dispersant SP-3275 can inhibit the growth of the particle size in Pyraclostrobin SC using different technical sources. Also formulated products maintain a good dispersion stability when mixing other pesticides and fertilizers before application.
The data digitalization of adjuvants, technicals, formulation preparation and related application scenarios, along with the study of the relationship between the structure of adjuvants and dispersed granules has helped SINVOCHEM to offer better solutions to obstacles caused by unstable quality of technicals.
Can you briefly introduce the current status and advantages of dry flowable formulations? What are the difficulties encountered during the development and production of this type of formulation? What breakthroughs have been made by SINVOCHEM in the formulation process?
Dry flowable (DF) formulations ensure a high degree of production automation, low probability of pollution, satisfactory disintegration in water, and stable dispersion during application. When mixed with various actives, dispersion of DF products is stable, and no additional registration is required as this type of formulation is similar to the wettable powder or water dispersible granule. Because of these benefits, dry flowable formulations have attracted widespread attention. In China, almost all manufacturers use the high pressure spray drying process, which has caused problems in some formulations, such as poor long time stability, prolonged wetting and easy agglomeration. In addition, it is difficult to process technicals with low melting points or high water solubility and high loading formulations. SINVOCHEM worked jointly with several research institutions, with the aim of overcoming these problems by changing factors like recipe, process, equipment and adjuvants. Finally by adopting new granulation techniques, such as continuous fluidized bed granulation, secondary granulation, and high pressure drying towers with a built-in fluid bed, as well as new dispersant structures, Sinvochem solved the problems of agglomeration and poor long term stability. Specifically, Sinvochem has a product called SP-DF2238 for use in dry flowable formulations. This product increases the heat resistance of low melting point technicals during drying, improves dispersion and greatly enhances the dispersion stability at a low dosage (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Dry flowable particles under the microscope; Dispersion of dry flowable in water
What are the major problems of aerial application? What are the biggest technical challenges to solve these problems? What technical solutions does SINVOCHEM have?
As we all know, in the past formula was designed based on a conventionally dilution of 1500-2500 folds for standalone application. The reality is that the concentration of sprays for aerial application is 10 to 20 time higher and multiple actives are mixed and applied together, which may easily lead to tank-mix stability issues, such as demulsification, delamination, precipitation and nozzle blockage. SINVOCHEM possesses a wind tunnel system that simulates a liquid trajectory and also an interface performance platform, allowing for the collection and analysis of droplet transmission data. With the help of these systems, droplet transmission can be regulated by well chosen adjuvants, which further improves compatibility during the mixing, anti-drifting, deposition, rainfastness, spreading, permeation and the moisture retention on complex target surfaces. In recent years, SINVOCHEM has conducted many aerial application trials on more than ten types of crops in many regions. So far, its aerial application solutions are ready (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Pesticide droplet transmission evaluation laboratory
From our numerous experiences, we found that to maximize efficacy, the most effective solution is to optimize or upgrade the aerial application package. For example, lower suspensibility commonly seen in WP products during aerial application can be improved by formulating the product into DF. In additon, adding a tank-mix adjuvant also improves droplet transmission. For instance, SP-6900 increases hold time when used in EC, OD, SC formulations or pesticide-fertilizer mixtures. SP-4506 helps reduce loss due to drifting and increases deposition on the target. SP-4026 improves spreading of liquids on the surface of the target, driving the liquids to reach the inside of flower buds to enhance the insecticidal effect against tiny pests. SP-4806 improves in-vivo translocation of triazole pesticides within the target plant.
Apart from offering general-purpose adjuvants for aerial application, SINVOCHEM has been working jointly with some of its customers to investigate the factors that affect the efficacy of pesticides from the perspectives of technicals, formulations, adjuvants, crops and targets of application. These efforts have been of great assistance to developing tank-mix adjuvants to achieve “better delivery of pesticide efficacy”.
How does SINVOCHEM solve the compatibility problem posed by combined use of pesticides and fertilizers? Can you share some of your cases?
The problem of dispersion stability caused by application of mixed pesticides can be summarized as follows. Firstly, there may be incompatibility between different formulation types, which could result in precipitation in tank-mix mixtures; or a wrong combination conventional formulations is used, which could result in delamination, precipitation and demulsification. Secondly, factors that could affect emulsification, dispersion and suspension are not taken care of. These factors include water hardness, temperature and pH confliction between formulations.
Through many comparison field trials, we found that for any package added with Compatibilizer SP-6900, spray liquids remained homogenous for a longer time with a denser and more evenly distributed deposition. Packages without a compatibilizer is subject to serious flocculation, leading to unstable transmission and resulting in uneven and sparse adhesion when reaching the target (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Field trials
In addition to application of mixed pesticides under the new planting mode, the simultaneous addition of various liquid fertilizers is also common and leads to instability issues. Electrolytes within the fertilizers causes collapse of the dispersion system, resulting in delamination, flocculation and precipitation. At the same time there is a risk of phytotoxicity caused by denatured spray liquids after prolonged storage.
There are ways to fix this problem. Firstly, the sequence of tank mixing is crucial, which needs to be done in the following order: compatibilizer, foliar fertilizer, water dispersible granule, suspension concentrate, microemulsion, water emulsion, soluble liquid and emulsifiable concentrate. Secondly, the rules of “mixing for immediate use” and “separate dilution before mixing” should be observed to effectively avoid the decomposition of the active ingredients. Finally, foliar fertilizers should be fully dissolved in advance to avoid reaction with other components. At the same time, the addition of compatibilizer developed for pesticide-fertilizer mixing, such as SP-6900 is crucial (Figure 5).
Figure 5. Compatibility tests of multi component packages added with foliar fertilizer. From left to right are unspiked package (without compatibilizer), package spiked with SP- 6900, package spiked with Compatibilizer A, package spiked with Compatibilizer B and package spiked with Compatibilizer C.
Note: Compatibilizer A, B and C are commercially available compatibilizers from other suppliers.
Microcapsule is one of the fastest-growing formulations in recent years. Can you share the research achievements of SINVOCHEM in this field? Is there any technical obstacle still to be tackled?
With the increasing cost of application, labor-saving formulation like microcapsule has a promising future due to its advantages, such as masked odor, inhibited decomposition and controlled release. However, as conventional CS formulation is based on in-situ or interface polymerization which is intermittent, quality consistency between batches is unsatisfactory and the rate of microencapsulation cannot be controlled accurately. Also non-conforming batches cannot be corrected.
In the past, Sinvochem has successfully utilized microfluid continuous process in its continuous synthesis of adjuvants. This technique, featured by a higher mass and heat transfer, is being adopted across fine chemical industry. SINVOCHEM innovatively introduced this technique to microencapsulation preparation and successfully developed products like pendimethalin 450g/L CS, pyraclostrobin 9% CS, trifluralin 520g/L CS, cyhalothrin 25% CS and S-metolachlor 480g/L CS.
The key quality indicator for CS is homogeneity. The major challenge comes from the fact that different performance is required under different scenarios. Studies showed that the adjuvant structure and the dosage affects release of actives. SINVOCHEM’s research on the structure-activity relationship and the interaction between actives, adjuvants and the targets of application enables regulation of controlled release of microcapsule suspensions. Sinvochem developed products such as fast-release and controlled-release cyhalothrin microcapsule, pyraclostrobin microcapsule released on foliar surfaces but stays intact in water, the long-acting pirimiphos-methyl microcapsule and Trifluralin microcapsule with suppressed photolysis. SINVOCHEM’s offering for CS includes SP-3936 and SP-2750, both suitable for the quick and continuous process of microencapsulation (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Continuous microchannel microencapsulation, pilot scale
In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing the global agrochemical industry? What is the position of Chinese agrochemical formulators on the international market? What are the key factors for agrochemical formulators to maintain and enhance their core competencies? In this course, what changes and innovations can adjuvant manufacturers, represented by SINVOCHEM, bring to the industry?
Currently, the agrochemical formulation level varies in different countries or regions across the globe. Compared with developed countries, lower pesticide utilization, use of traditional application methods and a lower level of automation are common in developing countries. For developing countries, formulation types need to be optimized for all stages of pesticide application. Therefore, formulation development needs to be refined and the loss during transmission needs to be prevented. After years of work, the level of pesticide formulation in China has increased to a relatively high level, but there is still a gap in the process of application compared with developed countries.
We believe that the key for formulators to keep their core competency is to establish a quality and R&D system in line with their customers’s application scenarios. SINVOCHEM has always aimed to promote new and emerging formulation types, such as DF and CS. It is also important for adjuvant suppliers to always learn from their customers. If possible, cooperate with their partners to jointly establish research platforms to meet customers’ application scenario requirements, and develop relevant adjuvants that will help with formulation development, improve the efficiency of the spatial, interfacing and in vivo transmission to ultimately enhance pesticide utilization. At present, SINVOCHEM is actively developing green adjuvant products in response to national initiatives. So far, SINVOCHEM has successfully substituted all products using nonylphenol. Through our ongoing efforts, we are confident that we can achieve “better delivery of pesticide efficacy” .
If you are interested in cooperation with SINVOCHEM, please contact:
Alex. Lee |SINVOCHEM
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