Ethylene glycol is the resultant product when the chemical compound ethylene oxide reacts with water. The glycol dehydration process is a process that provides absorption dehydration. During this process, a liquid desiccant absorbs water from a gas stream. Ethylene glycol has a very large affinity for water, when the glycol is in contact with a stream of water-wet natural gas, the ethylene glycol absorbs the water from the gas stream.

Ethylene glycol is well known for giving coolants properties that allow them to flow through a cooling system while being able to withstand severely high and low temperatures.

Ethylene glycol is primarily used in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which is plastic resin used to make containers for various beverages. It is also used for polyester fibers for clothing, upholstery, carpets etc.

Additionally, ethylene glycol is applied in industrial manufacturing for the following.

  • Manufacturing of fiberglass, used for boats, jet skis, bathtubs, storage tanks and bowling balls.
  • Manufacturing of ink for pens and printers.
  • Heat transfer fluids like industrial coolants for gas compressors, air-conditioning systems and ice-skating rinks.
  • To aid in manufacturing batteries.
  • To prevent and treat rot and fungi in wood.
  • As an organic solvent.

With ethylene glycol being used for packaging film and bottles, one of its greatest benefits is that many of these products are energy saving and cost efficient as well as recyclable.

There are also many uses for ethylene glycol in transportation. Radiators transfer heat from one medium to another for the purpose of heating and cooling. It is of extreme importance to ensure that an engine neither becomes too hot or too cold. In the case that either of these happen, the efficiency of the engine may be hindered. Engine coolant or antifreeze is an additive that serves to broaden the range at which the water will freeze and boil. Ethylene glycol is an important ingredient in antifreeze and coolants used in the automotive industry. It helps combat car engines overheating in the summer and protects them from freezing in the winter. Additionally, ethylene glycol is a key ingredient in deicing solutions used in various forms of transport, including airport runways during winter months. It is also used as a component in hydraulic brake fluids. 

Is ethylene glycol toxic?

Ethylene glycol, like most chemicals, poses some danger to users. Exposure to the chemical can happen in several ways:

  • Eye exposure, exposure to the vapors might cause irritation. Eye exposure to the liquid could cause swelling of the eyelid and cornea, inflammation, and/or corneal injury.
  • Inhalation exposure, inhalation of high levels of the vapors could cause irritation, inhalation of extremely concentrated levels of the chemical could cause respiratory discomfort. Ethylene glycol is odourless therefore the odour does not provide any warning of inhalation exposure to hazardous concentrations.
  • Skin exposure will cause irritation to the skin.
  • Ingestion of ethylene glycol is the great danger. This causes ethylene glycol poisoning. Ethylene glycol poisoning is poisoning caused by ingesting ethylene glycol. Early symptoms would be nausea and vomiting, intoxication and pain in the abdomen. As symptoms progress patients might experience decreased levels of consciousness, headaches and possibly seizures. Long-term effects of the poisoning may include kidney failure and brain damage. Toxicity and death might occur even after ingesting only a small amount.

If you think your health has been affected due to exposure to ethylene glycol, contact your health care professional.

Chemtoll Chemical Toll Manufacturers is a Cape Town based Level 1 BBBE and ISO 9001 accredited expert in the supply and manufacturing of bulk chemicals including ethylene glycol. As your trusted partner in bulk chemical manufacturing, Chemtoll is the perfect toll manufacturer for your needs. We will help you to not only produce a quality product, but also to perfect your recipes and formulas. Contact us on +27 21 842 2963 for a need’s analysis, a comprehensive quote, or for more information on ethylene glycol or the other products we offer.