Oxygenated solvents in Australia

Oxygenated solvents




Concerns and regulations about the effects on health, safety and the environment is reducing the demand for most solvents, notably the chlorinated hydrocarbons used in the surface coatings, adhesives, mastics and other preparations. However within this overall decline, there has been growth in so-called environmentally-friendly oxygenated solvents.[1]

In 1995, the international adoption of the Montreal Protocol and Clean Air Act promoted the phase out of solvents that deplete the ozone layer. In the US, their Clean Air Act limits emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) restricting the use of hydrocarbons, chlorinated solvents and ketones. In the US, Europe and other developed regions, environmental protection agencies are seeking voluntary reductions in the use of other solvents notably benzene, toluene, xylenes, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, chloroform and methylene chloride. The largest reductions of these solvents has occurred in paints, coatings and industrial cleaners. The incentives to reduce VOCs is anticipated to continue with ongoing expectations of regulations being enacted through this decade and extending into newly developing regions including Asia.

In the coatings industry, about half of the volume is in hydrocarbon-based solvents are the aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons that are now being challenged by the oxygenated solvents such as ketones, esters, alcohols and glycol ethers. In consequence, oxygenated solvents are anticipated to grow by 1 to 2 per cent per year, against a decline of a similar percentage for hydrocarbon solvents. Only partly undermining their potential are the new technologies in coatings such as waterborne coatings and powder coatings-

The most notable of these oxygenated solvents are the ketones, MEK, MIBK and acetone; the high volume alcohols, ethanol, butanol and propanol, and the esters, primarily butyl and ethyl acetates. Other solvents include the low-boiling esters, methyl acetate recently exempted as a VOC in the US and perceived as having good potential in coatings and cosmetics.

Union Carbide is a leading producer of oxygenated solvents and in the last few years, the company has completed major investments at several of its solvent facilities, including for butyl glycol ethers and a new butanol unit.

Dow Chemical Company, also a major supplier of chlorinated solvents, supplies oxygenated solvents including propylene (p) and ethylene (e) series for its oxygenated line. The e-series is growing at 0 to 2 percent while the p-series glycol ethers at 3 to 5 percent per year having become popular in cleaners and coatings. These solvents have grown to supply the move to the waterborne products that are replacing the traditional aromatic and aliphatic solvents. The water solvent requires glycol ether-type solvents.

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[1] The shift from hydrocarbon and chlorinated solvents has also stimulated some demand for terpenes, some ethers and hydrogen peroxide described as ‘green solvents’, that are biodegradable and pose little threat of air pollution or ozone damage.

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