What Are the Uses of Ethylene Glycol?

A question mark on a chalk board

Ethylene glycol (EG) is colourless liquid with a sweet taste. Last week, we took a look at the properties behind this highly toxic compound. This week, we’re talking about its many uses that stretch across a variety of different industries.

Antifreeze

The most common use of ethylene glycol is in antifreeze formulations. It is able to interfere with the hydrogen bonds in water, making it difficult for the water molecules to bind. This prevents the formation of ice crystals and in turn lowers the freezing point of water. This is why, during winter, antifreeze prevents your car from freezing over.

These properties also make ethylene glycol an ideal de-icing fluid for windshields and even aircrafts. Its ability to lower the freezing point of water is also useful in vitrification mixtures for sample preservation. Here, it is able to help ‘freeze down’ a biological sample in order to preserve it for longer.

While ethylene glycol is a very effective antifreezing agent, it is also very toxic if consumed. Its sweet taste is dangerous here as it causes pets or infants to accidentally ingest it. For this reason, non-toxic antifreeze solutions were introduced. These use propylene glycol instead, making it more suitable for environments where there are pets or children.

The underside of a plane flying through the air

Ethylene glycol is commonly used in antifreeze, which is not only used in cars but also aircrafts. Ethylene glycol is a major aircraft deicer, comprising up to 70% of the solution .

Manufacture of Polymers

Ethylene glycol also has a major use in the manufacture of polymers, namely polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

Ethylene glycol has a similarly important role in the production of polyethylene glycol (PEG), where it is reacted with ethylene oxide. Once this reaction has been catalysed, ethylene glycol polymerises and a variety of PEG products are created.

In the case of PET, ethylene glycol is heated together with terephthalic acid in the presence of chemical catalysts. The end result is a molten mass of PET. Alongside polyethylene (PE), PET is one of the most common plastics. It is contained in everything from grocery bags and plastic bottles to space blankets and gas cylinders.

Plastics like PET and PE are commonly used in containers that store chemicals. This is because their diverse properties make them compatible with a range of acids and bases.

2 plastic Starbucks cups on a bench

Ethylene glycol is used in the manufacture of polymers, including PET. This is a very common plastic that is used in grocery bags, pipes, chemical storage containers and plastic cups or bottles.

Desiccant

The hygroscopic properties of ethylene glycol as well as its high boiling point make it an ideal desiccant and dehydrating agent. This makes it well-suited for use in glycol dehydration.

In the natural gas industry, glycol dehydration is system that uses a liquid desiccant – like ethylene glycol – to remove water vapour from natural gas before it can be used commerically. This is important because, when produced from an underground reservoir, natural gas is completely saturated with water vapour. This can cause many problems if not removed, and so it is crucial to employ glycol dehydration.

In this process, many different glycols are used. While triethylene glycol (TEG) is commonly used to dehydrate natural gas, ethylene glycol is used in the refrigeration units to decrease hydrate temperature.

Other Uses of Ethylene Glycol

While these are the main three uses of ethylene glycol, this chemical has a variety of applications that range across many industries. Ethylene glycol is also used in:

  • Fibreglass: EG used in the manufacture of fibreglass, which is used in things like jet skis, bowling balls, storage tanks and bath tubs
  • Wood Treatments: EG has been used to prevent and treat rot or fungi in wood. This is especially useful for museums where partially rotten wooden objects are displayed
  • Ink: The presence of EG helps to increase the viscosity and decrease the volatility of ink
  • Explosives: EGDN (ethylene glycol dinitrate) is used to manufacture dynamite that can be used in colder weather. It does this by lowering the freezing point of nitroglycerine
A fountain pain on top of a spilt pot of blue ink, which contains ethylene glycol

Ethylene glycol is sometimes used in ink, where it helps to increase its viscosity and lower its volatility. This makes the ink thicker and less likely to evaporate.

At ReAgent, we supply high quality ethylene glycol in a wide range of batch sizes. We also stock antifreeze and non-toxic antifreeze solutions that are all 100% quality guaranteed. Place your order online today, or contact a member of our expert team for more information.

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