INSIGHT: Glycerine gets the green flag for use in engine coolants

10 April 2012 16:07  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--A set of specification standards for glycerine grades to be used in engine coolants has been released by ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), giving the oleochemically derived material the green flag to move into the glycol market segment.

Refined glycerine of 99.5% purity will be one of the blendstocks for these coolant systems.

Stringent specifications and monitoring commanded the entry of refined glycerine into the glycol sector, with ASTM committees and glycerine refiners placing checkpoints along the process for more than a year before sanctioning the certification.

Several ASTM engine coolant glycerine specification sets were developed, with light and heavy duty vehicle coolant systems using glycerine emerging for commercial entry phases during 2012.

The first specifications for ASTM Engine Coolant Grade Glycerine (D7640) and the D7714 and D7715 specifications for light and heavy duty vehicle coolant grades were approved in April 2011.

“I manage 10 other committees and I was impressed with the interest on the glycerine project,” said Joe Koury, D15ASTM committee coordinator for the ASTM.

“I was impressed with people being so interested in this specific standards activity,” he added.

According to the ASTM, the project was initiated in 2010, reaching approval stages in 2011 that led to the specifications’ publication on the ASTM website in May, 2011.

ASTM approved specifications are widely sought for new products coming into the US automotive industry because the approval process includes a series of rigorous testing parameters, often taking several years to complete.

“It usually takes about a year – that is about average for a brand new standard to move from initiation to final approval,” said Koury.

Natural glycerine is a co-product of renewable fats and oils that have been saponified, hydrolysed or transesterified, and therefore is a co-product of soap-making, oleochemical fatty acid production and biodiesel production via transesterification.

A number of concerned groups became involved in the testing toward process and performance criteria to ensure confidence in the glycerine blends.

An ASTM Glycerine Task Force Group was formed, consisting of industry leaders and participants from the oleochemical/glycerine business community and the downstream engine coolant industry.

“Performance is a main criterion,” one industry participant said.

But the toxicity of ethylene glycol (EG) has often been mentioned as a concern in its heat transfer applications, which is one reason that glycerine is making incursions in antifreeze and coolant segments.

Engine and fuel products seeking "green" labelling by using bio-based materials such as refined glycerine are getting a harder look these days than many thought might happen.

This is at least partially because of the messy manner in which the US biodiesel industry came into being and some performance issues, such as gel formation below certain temperatures, with biodiesel itself.

The US biodiesel industry was cobbled of disparate pieces, with soybean and other vegetable oil-based biodiesel production units coming up alongside multi-feedstock units that can use fats and greases such as tallow, poultry fat and yellow grease in addition to vegetable oils. Feedstock price options made the choice difference for most of these units.

Adding to the scramble of feedstocks to make the biofuel, biodiesel’s finished performance standards under the ASTM certification route lagged that of the EU, at least in part due to almost all of the US production volumes being exported to the EU, rather than sold into the domestic market.

Seeking to mitigate a similar period of performance and certification flux, when opportunities became realistic for glycerine to be used in the engine coolant market – or, what is also called heat transfer application –  the oleochemical community joined with industry participants in the coolants and lubricants markets to form committees and work toward obtaining an ASTM approval for the glycerine and the engine products using glycerine before any of these new product lines became available for commercial use.

Market participants expected about 5m lb of refined glycerine to be utilised in the glycol market in 2012, but also expected this number to begin to increase by the end of the year, potentially doubling in 2013.

US refined glycerine contracts were most recently assessed at 41–48 cents/lb (€687–804/tonne) FOB (free on board) midwest for vegetable-based glycerine and 37–46 cents/lb for tallow-based, on the same terms.

Industrial grade EG contracts were most recently assessed at 52–55 cents/lb FOB, while antifreeze grade EG spot barges were assessed at 45–47 cents/lb FOB.

US refined glycerine producers include Procter & Gamble, Vantage Oleochemicals, Twin Rivers Technology, VVF, PMC Biogenix, Peter Cremer North America, and Cargill.

($1 = €0.76)

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By: Judith Taylor
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