TCC’s Ethylene Glycol (MEG) is an organic compound widely used as an automotive antifreeze and the precursor to polymers. In its pure form, it is an odorless, colorless, syrupy liquid. Ethylene glycol is toxic, and ingestion can result in death.
Ethylene glycol is produced from ethylene, via the intermediate ethylene oxide. Ethylene oxide reacts with water to produce ethylene glycol according to the chemical equation:
C2H4O + H2O → HO–CH2CH2–OH
This reaction can be catalyzed by either acids or bases, or can occur at neutral pH under elevated temperatures. The highest yields of ethylene glycol occur at acidic or neutral pH with a large excess of water. Under these conditions, ethylene glycol yields of 90% can be achieved. During the process some by-products are formed: Diethylene Glycol (DEG) and Triethylene Glycol (TEG). These by-products are separated from MEG through distillation.
The major end uses of ethylene glycol are as an antifreeze, which accounts for over 50% of ethylene glycol’s commercial uses, and as raw material in the production of polyester fibers and plastics, mainly PET, which accounts for 40% of total ethylene glycol consumption. Because this material is cheaply available, it finds many niche applications.
TCC’s Ethylene Glycol’s major end uses are as an antifreeze, which accounts for more than 50% of ethylene glycol’s commercial use, and as raw material in the production of polyester fibers and plastics, mainly PET, which accounts for 40% of total ethylene glycol consumption. Because this material is cheaply available it finds many niche applications.
Ethylene glycol is a medium for convective heat transfer in automobiles and liquid cooled computers. It is also commonly used in chilled water air-conditioning systems that place either the chiller or air handlers outside, or systems that must cool below the freezing temperature of water. In geothermal heating/cooling systems, ethylene glycol is the fluid that transports heat through the use of a geothermal heat pump. The ethylene glycol either gains energy from the source, or dissipates heat to the source, depending if the system is being used for heating or cooling.
Due to its low freezing point, ethylene glycol resists freezing. A mixture of 60% ethylene glycol and 40% water does not freeze until temperatures drop below -45°C (-49° F).
In the plastics industry, ethylene glycol is an important precursor to polyester fibers and resins. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resins used to make plastic bottles for soft drinks is prepared from the reaction of ethylene glycol with terephthalic acid.
Because of its high boiling point and affinity for water, ethylene glycol is a useful desiccant. Ethylene glycol is widely used to inhibit the formation of natural gas hydrates in long multiphase pipelines that convey natural gas from remote gas fields to an onshore processing facility. Ethylene glycol can be recovered from the natural gas and reused as an inhibitor after purification treatment that removes water and inorganic salts.
Minor uses of ethylene glycol include the manufacture of capacitors; a chemical intermediate in the manufacture of 1,4-dioxane, and as an additive to prevent corrosion in liquid cooling systems for personal computers. Ethylene glycol is also used in the manufacture of some vaccines. It is used as a minor ingredient in shoe polish and also in some inks and dyes. Ethylene glycol may also be one of the minor ingredients in screen cleaning solutions, along with the main ingredient isopropyl alcohol. Ethylene glycol is commonly used as a preservative for biological specimens, especially in secondary schools during dissection as a safer alternative to formaldehyde.