Antifreeze is an additive which can be used to lower the freezing point – and also raise the boiling point – of any liquid that is water-based. One common example is from the automotive industry where antifreeze, in the form of ethylene glycol, is added to water as the engine coolant in vehicles and prevents the engine freezing in cold temperatures.
If little or no antifreeze was used and water froze in the engine, it would create massive internal pressure through expansion, resulting in severe engine damage. Likewise, an overheated engine can have damaging (and expensive) consequences. Coolant caring for your car is key!
What is Antifreeze Made Of?
Antifreeze can be made using any of these four main agents mixed with water: methanol, glycerol, ethylene glycol and propylene glycol. Each agent has advantages and disadvantages, depending on how you want to use it.
- Methanol: a highly combustible, toxic liquid, methanol is used in vehicle windscreen washer fluid and de-icers.
- Glycerol (also called glycerine): non-toxic and able to withstand higher temperatures than its counterparts, glycerol was the first antifreeze used in car engines. Sometimes called ‘nature’s antifreeze’, it can be made from animal and vegetable matter.
- Ethylene glycol: the most common car antifreeze, used over glycerol due to its lower freezing point even though it’s toxic to humans. Ethylene glycol also the best antifreeze for providing protection against both cold and hot temperatures due to its heat transfer characteristics.
- Propylene glycol: less toxic than ethylene glycol but has to be used in larger quantities to achieve the same result. Ideal for use where ethylene glycol would be dangerous, such as in the food industry.
The History of Antifreeze
Charles Adolphe Wurtz, a French chemist, discovered ethylene glycol in the late 1850s, but couldn’t find any uses for it. Around fifty years later, ethylene glycol was found to be an excellent coolant, and was also used as a replacement for glycerol in explosions during the First World War. After the war, it was manufactured on a large scale for engine coolants and was revolutionary in the expansion of both the automotive and aviation industries.
Producing Antifreeze to Stay Warm
Incredibly, in 2014 scientists announced that they had discovered five families of Antarctic dwelling fish which naturally produce ‘antifreeze’ proteins, enabling them to survive in the frigid Southern Ocean. This ability makes them so successful that these fish comprise over 90% of the total fish biomass in the area.
While we can’t provide the ability to stay warm in the Antarctic, we do supply a wide range of ready-to-use and bespoke antifreeze, including non-toxic options.
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