Glycerin gets the green light for use in US engine coolants

16 April 2012 00:00  [Source: ICB]

A set of specification standards for glycerin 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 glycerin of 99.5% purity will be one of the blendstocks for these coolant systems. Stringent specifications and monitoring commanded the entry of refined glycerin into the glycol sector, with ASTM committees and glycerin refiners placing checkpoints along the process for more than a year before sanctioning the certification.

COMMERCIAL ENTRY

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

The first specifications for ASTM Engine Coolant Grade Glycerin (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 glycerin project," said Joe Koury, D15ASTM committee coordinator for the ASTM. "I was impressed with people being so interested in this specific standards activity."

The project was initiated in 2010, says the ASTM, reaching approval stages in 2011. This 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 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 glycerin is a co-product of renewable fats and oils that have been saponified, hydrolyzed 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 glycerin blends. An ASTM Glycerin Task Force Group was formed, consisting of industry leaders and participants from the oleochemical/glycerin business community and the downstream engine coolant industry. "Performance is a main criterion," one industry participant said.

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

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 © Rex Features

Refined glycerin will be used in enginge coolants

Engine and fuel products seeking "green" labeling by using bio-based materials such as refined glycerin are getting a closer 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 together with disparate pieces. Soybean and other vegetable oil-based biodiesel production units came 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 behind that of the EU, at least in part thanks to almost all of the US production volumes being exported to the EU, rather than sold into the domestic market.

The oleochemical community sought to mitigate a similar period of performance and certification flux, when opportunities became realistic for glycerin to be used in the engine-coolant market - or, what is also called heat-transfer application.

It joined with industry participants in the coolants and lubricants markets to form committees and work toward obtaining an ASTM approval for the glycerin and the engine products using glycerin before any of these new product lines became available for commercial use.

POTENTIAL DOUBLING

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

US refined glycerin contracts were assessed at 41-48 cents/lb (€687-804/tonne) FOB (free on board) midwest for vegetable-based glycerin and 37-46 cents/lb for tallow-based, on the same terms, as of the week ended April 7.

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

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

I was impressed with people being so interested in this specific standards activity"


By: Judith Taylor
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