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Are there plant-derived and thus sustainable glycol-based heat transfer fluids?

Many of us could not imagine that sustainable propylene glycol products, which are even competitive in price, could appear so quickly on the market of heat transfer liquids. Compared to fossil hydrocarbon-sourced (oil and gas) heat exchanger fluids, the use of propylene glycol made of renewable raw materials does not entail any trade-off in terms of performance and quality. Its composition, quality and heat-communication properties are the same as standard propylene glycol.

In this way, users of these products can simultaneously contribute to an increasingly carbon-neutral and sustainable world and continue to operate as usual, which in many cases cannot be said about the green transition, affecting many industries.

In Hungary, VETTÓ Kft. currently alone, distributes its 100% plant-derived propylene glycol (1,2-propanediol) product, Bio-Propilen®. The plant-based propylene glycols from completely renewable sources, mainly due to the re-absorption effect of the plants that serve as its raw material, keep the CO2 and other greenhouse gases emitted during use in a circular system. In contrast, the extraction of raw materials for glycols made from hydrocarbons and the incineration of the used glycols release carbon dioxide that has been blocked for millions of years.

Figure 1: General life cycle of bio-based propylene glycol (Source: Vettó Kft)

Figure 2: General life cycle of hydrocarbon-based propylene glycol

(Source: Vettó Kft)

The production of Bio-Propilen® product from our portfolio, in line with similar products available on the international market, produces 55% less CO2 emissions than the currently common hydrocarbon-sourced propylene glycol heat transfer fluids (Ecoinvent - ISO14040/14044).

Chart 1: Comparison of greenhouse gas emissions

(Source: Vettó Kft . Ecoinvent and ISO 14040/14044 databases)

This reduction in emissions is largely due to the fact that this propylene glycol is mostly produced from glycerol, a by-product of bioethanol production. The renewable source is provided by the crops (rapeseed, sunflower, sugar beet, etc.) that also serve as the raw material for glycerol itself.

Figure 3: The most common production process of bio-based propylene glycol

(Source: Vettó Kft)

Figure 4: The production process of hydrocarbon-based propylene glycol

(Source: Vettó Kft)

Renewable and sustainable materials and products such as Bio-Propilen® are very much within the framework and even forerunners of the circular economy, as circular economy covers circular processes of efficient reuse of resources, materials and products. In this concept, the life of products and materials is extended as much as possible and waste is reduced to a minimum level.

The European Union intends to promote the initial phase of this new economic model with great efforts, with ideas such as targeted tax incentives for renewable and recycled materials/products and a carbon duty on energy imported into the EU and carbon-intensive raw materials (e.g. steel and cement) or fossil fuels (coal, natural gas or oil).

Such steps would further facilitate the rapid uptake of this approach even in the field of industrial chemicals.

Figure 5: Butterfly Chart - Circular Economy

(Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation 2013)


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