We’ve taken a look in a recent blog post at what tetrahydrofuran (often abbreviated to THF) is. Here, we’ll look in a little more depth at the uses and applications of tetrahydrofuran.
As a brief reminder before we dive in, THF is a colourless, miscible and polar organic compound with a strong smell. Made up of four carbon atoms, eight hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen atom, it is a heterocyclic ether. Other names for tetrahydrofuran are oxolone and butylene oxide.
Uses of Tetrahydrofuran
Tetrahydrofuran is a versatile solvent, which is one of its main uses. It acts as an industrial solvent for making polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the plastic that the majority of indoor plumbing is made out of, and it also dissolves PVC, and therefore is a primary ingredient in PVC adhesives. It is also used in PVC reactor cleaning and PVC film casting.
THF is also used:
- As a laboratory chemical when its miscibility with water doesn’t affect the experiment, for example in hydroboration-oxidation reactions (a method of preparing alcohols from alkenes where THF is the catalyst medium between the two reactants)
- Cleaning agent
- In coatings such as cellophane and PVC top coating
- To manufacture varnishes
- As a chemical intermediate
- As a processing aid in the production of petroleum
- As a reaction medium in the pharmaceutical industry
THF in Polymerisation
Polymerisation means to form a repeating network of molecules, and tetrahydrofuran is commonly used in polymer science. In the presence of strong acids, THF converts to the polymer poly(tetramethylene ether) glycol (abbreviated to PTMEG), which is used to make elastomeric polyurethane fibers like Spandex, Lycra, and elastane.
THF can dissolve polymers before determining their molecular mass using gel permeation chromatography. It is used to liquefy old PVC cement and to degrease industrial metal parts.
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