Glycerin: A key raw material for Chemical Industry.

May 20, 2020

With more and more stringent environmental norms backed up by public awareness, the chemical industry is witnessing a revolution in every decade which has opened up avenues for researchers to find newer applications of products like Glycerin which is a building block for chemical industry.
Glycerol (also called glycerin or glycerin) is a simple polyol compound. Glycerin is the common term for Propane-1, 2, 3-triol. Glycerin is a sugar alcohol and the simplest trihydric alcohol, a triol. The name glycerol was introduced as it has the correct ending –ol for an alcohol (the ending –in stands for alkynes or amines).
There are two different types of glycerin − vegetable and petrochemical glycerin. Nowadays, the petrochemical production process is only seldom used. Vegetable oils, so-called triglycerides form the basis for the production of glycerin.
Today, vegetable glycerin is produced industrially using three known methods. It is important that it is produced as the by-product of a reaction, a so-called joint product.
  • Saponification – for the manufacture of soap
  • Hydrolytic cleavage – for the production of fatty acids
  • Esterification – biodiesel
Until the early 2000’s, about 25% of the global glycerin demand was met by petrochemical synthesis and other fraction from the soap and oleo chemical industries wherein glycerin has become additional source of revenue for almost 6 decades.
Synthetic glycerol today is seldom produced. The production sources of glycerin today stems from biodiesel (64%), Fatty Acids (24%), Fatty Alcohols (7%) and others (5%).

It is always interesting to know applications and uses of product like glycerin which can be produced from multiple sources.
As glycerin is harmless for environment and health, it is used as an emollient and Humectant in cosmetics and personal care products. In creams, glycerin acts as a moisturizer. It prevents cream from drying out.

Glycerin is also used in toothpaste as it improves taste, prevents dehydration and lends a shine. Toothpaste can contain around 30% glycerin.
There is also broad scope for the use of glycerin in food and beverages: as a preservative, a consistency and flavor enhancer, as a solvent for flavors and food colors in soft drinks and confectionary; in sweets and cakes as well as casings for chocolates, meat and cheese it serves as a humectant and emollient.

Glycerin is one of the most often used ingredients in pharmaceutical industry. It acts as a solvent, moistener, humectant, and bodying agent in tinctures, elixirs, and ointments.

Other well-known uses include gargles, cough medicines, capsules, lozenges, suppositories, and anesthetics, as well as an additive in antibiotics and antiseptics.

On market side, there is a lack of interdependence between demand and supply. Glycerin is independent of demand but instead linked to biodiesel production. It means that there are times when glycerin is in ample supply and there are times of severe shortages too. Interestingly, increase in demand for glycerin does not necessarily result in increase in supply. The supply increases only when the demand for biodiesel goes up.
This lack of interdependence opened up the route for wide range of applications of glycerin so much that number of research papers published for dealing with new usages for glycerin between 2000 and 2007 doubled to more than 7000 annually. Surely, this makes glycerin a key raw material for chemical industry.

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