What Is Alcohol Ethoxylate?

Posted On: August 21, 2018

Alcohol ethoxylates are a class of compounds that are commonly used throughout many industrial practices and commercial markets.  These compounds are synthesized via the reaction of a fatty alcohol and ethylene oxide, resulting in a molecule that consists of two main components, (1) the oleophilic, carbon-rich, fatty alcohol and (2) the hydrophilic, polyoxyethylene chain.

Due the basic structure of these compounds that pair a hydrophobic portion (water-hating) with a hydrophilic component (water-loving), ethoxylated alcohols are a versatile class of compounds, commonly referred to as surfactants.  Alcohol ethoxylate surfactants enhance the mixing and solubilization of oil and water by having these contrasting sections within the same compound.  With this unique structure, a single molecule can inhabit the interface of two immiscible phases (i.e. oil and water), effectively bringing them closer together and lowering the interfacial energy associated between them.  By lowering this energy, many novel solution applications can be accessed by increasing the homogeneity of these two previously immiscible phases.

what is alcohol ethoxyate?

Ethoxylated alcohols can vary widely in their properties and applications because the materials used to make these products can vary in their structures and amounts.  For instance, fatty alcohols, which are commonly sourced from natural materials, can provide different structures depending on the plant from which they were extracted.  Common natural sources of fatty alcohols include the palm oil tree (including both palm oil and palm kernel oil), oils from the coconut tree, and the oil from rapeseed.  Each of these natural sources differs in its distribution of carbon chains, making an alcohol ethoxylate from coconut oil alcohol different from an ethoxylated alcohol made from the alcohol of a palm kernel oil.

Oxiteno offers a wide array of ethoxylated alcohols that have been sourced from natural materials (Alcohol Ethoxylates), each of which provide a unique set of application properties.  Additionally, fatty alcohols can also be synthesized from petroleum products, providing unique structures in the hydrophobic moiety that are not commonly observed in nature.  Branched alcohols and alcohols of specific carbon distributions can be attained using synthetic starting materials, all of which strongly affect the alcohol ethoxylate’s final properties.  If you’re seeking surfactant companies, please visit the Oxiteno website to see our large portfolio of ethoxylated alcohols from synthetic sources.

Alternatively, the length of the polyoxyethylene component (i.e. the hydrophilic portion) of the alcohol ethoxylate provides this class of compounds with a wide assortment of water solubilities and detergency properties.  Increasing the amount of ethylene oxide on the ethoxylated alcohol typically increases its water solubility, as well as increases the hydrophilic/lipophilic balance (HLB) of the compound.  Ranging in arbitrary units of 1-20, the HLB of a nonionic surfactant can be calculated and used to determine the propensity of a compound to work effectively in a given solution of oil and water.  Lower HLB values (< 10) are commonly used for oil-rich solutions while surfactants with higher HLB values (> 10) are typically most efficient in oil-in-water emulsions.  Each of Oxiteno’s line of ethoxylated alcohol products can vary widely in their HLB values, offering numerous options for the formulation chemist and scientist.

Alcohol Ethoxylate Uses

Alcohol ethoxylates are used in a wide variety of industrial and commercial settings.  Because these compounds are surfactants, they can be used whenever oily substances come into contact with water or a surface.  Ethoxylated alcohols can be used as detergents, wetting agents, emulsifiers, degreasers and emollients in many lines of commercially available products and industrial practices.

Oxiteno’s line of alcohol ethoxylates serve many markets, including, Paints & Coatings, Agrochemical, Home & Personal Care, Oil & Gas and Industrial & Institutional Cleaning.  Due to the aforementioned variety in properties that are governed by a compound’s structure, Oxiteno’s line of alcohol ethoxylates can provide the formulator with many different properties, including excellent detergent properties, high and low-foaming products, as well as, ethoxylates that are rapid surface-wetting agents.  Feel free to contact Oxiteno for any technical, questions at our contact page.

The market’s demand for alcohol ethoxylates that are more efficient and specific is growing, placing an emphasis on Oxiteno to make environmentally conscience decisions regarding the production of these materials.  Currently, Oxiteno offers a line ethoxylated alcohols that are currently listed on the CleanGredients® definitive database, which is an ingredients list whose formulations have been pre-approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) to meet the criteria of their Safer-Choice® standard.1  This CleanGredients® database represents a collaborative effort between industry, government agencies and non-profit affiliates who have a vested interest in advancing the use of ‘green’ products in household and industrial formulations.

Formulators who seek to meet the EPA’s Safer-Choice® Standard should use compounds from the CleanGredients® list, which is organized by Greenblue® (an environmental nonprofit dedicated to the sustainable use of materials in society).  More information regarding Greenblue® and CleanGredients® can be obtained through their respective websites (greenblue.org and cleangredients.org, respectively).  In order to help protect our environment, many of Oxiteno’s alcohol ethoxylates not only meet the criteria for CleanGredients, but are also RSPO mass balance certified (when appropriate).Please contact Oxiteno with questions regarding our CleanGredeints® listing, RSPO mass balance certifications as well as our Kosher and Halal versions of alcohol ethoxylates by visiting our contact page.

Oxiteno is one of the industrial leaders that specializes in making alcohol ethoxylates throughout the Americas. Oxiteno’s R&D facilities located throughout North and South America have the capabilities to take a concept, prepare samples and transfer the technology into the industrial scale at one of Oxiteno’s many industrial manufacturing sites.  The ability to manufacture these products to conform to the necessary regulations to ensure a safe product that has minimal impact on the environment requires a company that has the manufacturing capabilities and correct mindset to safely engineer these compounds that affect our everyday lives.

Oxiteno recognizes that having the global infrastructure is not enough to ensure the sustainability and well-being of our planet, which is why the people of Oxiteno are committed to making safer, more environmentally friendly products for all markets served.  Industrial collaboration is a key component to the production of effective and environmentally safe surfactants.  Please feel free to contact Oxiteno’s staff scientists and marketing researchers to help develop ideas and foster environmentally-conscience collaborations.

  1. For more information, please visit Oxiteno’s product listings on the CleanGredients® database (www.cleangredients.org)
  2. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil