One of the most versatile compounds in the chemical industry, isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, serves a range of functions in different industries, including cleaning agents, solvents, and fuels. However, where does it come from? And how does it get to different parts of the world? In this article, we aim to unlock the mystery of isopropyl alcohol’s origin, its uses, and its production process.
What is isopropyl alcohol?
Isopropyl alcohol (IPA), also known as rubbing alcohol, is a colorless and flammable chemical compound with the molecular formula C₃H₈O. It is a primary alcohol with the chemical formula (CH₃)₂CHOH, and it is a structural isomer of propanol. The compound is a common ingredient in different homemade solutions for cleaning surfaces, wounds, and medical instruments. It has antiseptic and disinfectant properties make it an essential element for maintaining hygiene and health.
Isopropyl alcohol uses and applications
The versatility of isopropyl alcohol can be seen from the many fields where it is used. Some of the most common uses of this compound include:
- Cleaning agent – IPA is commonly used as an effective cleaning agent in homes, hospitals, and industries. It evaporates quickly, leaving a clean surface behind without streaks.
- Disinfectant – Its antimicrobial properties make it useful for disinfecting surfaces, wounds, and equipment.
- Solvent – It can be used as a solvent to dissolve other substances, including oils, waxes, and resins.
- Fuel – As a fuel additive, isopropyl alcohol has been used in racing cars, as it is less dense than gasoline and increases oxygen percentage, improving combustion.
- Coolant – In computer cooling systems, isopropyl alcohol is used to protect against moisture and heat.
Isopropyl alcohol production process
The production of isopropyl alcohol involves a catalytic hydration process that converts propylene to isopropyl alcohol. The process involves the following steps:
- Propylene and water are mixed and fed into a reactor.
- The reactor is filled with a solid catalyst that promotes the chemical reaction between propylene and water.
- The reaction produces isopropyl alcohol and some water as a byproduct.
- The reaction mixture is then distilled to remove any remaining impurities and separate isopropyl alcohol from water.
- The final product may require further processing to attain the desired purity level.
The production process may differ slightly depending on the manufacturer and country of origin, but these are the basic steps that are involved. In some countries, biofuels or other ethanol-based raw materials may be used for the production of isopropyl alcohol.
Where is isopropyl alcohol made?
The production of isopropyl alcohol is tightly connected to the production of propylene, its precursor. According to market reports, countries in the Middle East, Asia, and North America produce most of the world’s isopropyl alcohol. Some of the largest producers of isopropyl alcohol include Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) and LyondellBasell Industries, both of which have operations in different regions. However, various manufacturers have plants and facilities that produce isopropyl alcohol globally.
Isopropyl alcohol production in North America
In North America, isopropyl alcohol is manufactured mainly by the polymerization of propylene. The majority of isopropyl alcohol production occurs in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The largest producers in North America are LyondellBasell, Dow Chemicals, and INEOS.
Isopropyl alcohol production in Asia
Asia accounts for the majority of the world’s isopropyl alcohol production. China is the largest producer of isopropyl alcohol in Asia, followed by Japan and Taiwan. Some of the major players in the Asian isopropyl alcohol market include Japan’s Mitsui Chemicals, Korea’s LG Chem, and China’s Shandong Yuhuang Chemical (Yuhuang Chemical).
Isopropyl alcohol production in Europe
Europe occupies a small share of the world’s isopropyl alcohol market, with its largest producers being BASF, Dow Chemicals, and Solvay. A large proportion of isopropyl alcohol is imported into the European market from Asia and North America to fulfil the local demand.
Isopropyl alcohol regulations and safety measures
Handling isopropyl alcohol requires proper precautions and safety measures since it is a flammable, irritating, and toxic chemical compound. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 400 parts per million (ppm) of isopropyl alcohol in the workplace. The organization has also established guidelines to ensure safe handling of isopropyl alcohol. For instance, this alcohol should not be used near open flames, and contact with skin or eyes should be minimized.
Isopropyl alcohol and COVID-19
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic saw a surge in isopropyl alcohol demand due to its antiseptic properties. In efforts to slow down the spread of the virus, isopropyl alcohol became an essential element in the manufacture of hand sanitizers, personal protective equipment (PPEs), and disinfectants. Increased demand has since caused a significant rise in the price of isopropyl alcohol globally.
Isopropyl alcohol has emerged as a fundamental compound in critical fields. From its production to uses, we can see that isopropyl alcohol plays an essential role in different aspects of our lives. Understanding where it comes from and how it is used can help inform our choices while using it.
Here are some of the most common questions related to the origin of isopropyl alcohol:
- What is the origin of isopropyl alcohol? Isopropyl alcohol is a synthetic compound that is produced from the polymerization of propylene.
- Where is isopropyl alcohol made? The largest producers of isopropyl alcohol are in the Middle East, Asia, and North America, with countries like China, Japan, and the US being some of the largest producers.
- What are the uses of isopropyl alcohol? Isopropyl alcohol can be used as a cleaning agent, disinfectant, solvent, fuel, and coolant.
- How is isopropyl alcohol made? Isopropyl alcohol is produced by a catalytic hydration process that converts propylene to isopropyl alcohol.
- Is isopropyl alcohol safe for use? While isopropyl alcohol has many uses, it is flammable, irritating, and toxic. Handling requires proper safety measures, and it should not be used near open flames.