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Food additive could find use in more efficient non-toxic antifreeze

Food additive could find use i...
Antifreeze can be deadly, but perhaps not for much longer (Photo: Shutterstock)
Antifreeze can be deadly, but perhaps not for much longer (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Antifreeze can be deadly, but perhaps not for much longer (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Antifreeze can be deadly, but perhaps not for much longer (Photo: Shutterstock)

Because of its sweet flavor and aroma, thousands of wild animals, pets and children are poisoned by drinking automotive antifreeze/coolant every year. Its particularly nasty ingredient is ethylene glycol, which affects the central nervous system, heart and kidneys to the point that it can ultimately prove lethal. Now, however, scientists from Colorado-based ACTA Technology, Inc. have replaced the ethylene glycol with another compound that's not only safe, but that also improves the performance of the antifreeze.

Led by ACTA founder Prof. Edward V. Clancy, the researchers looked to propylene glycol as the substitute. It's safe to consume, and is already used to absorb moisture and stabilize mixtures in foods such as frostings and artificial sweeteners. It's also utilized in coolant for industrial machinery, in settings where poisonous substances are an absolute no-no (such as food-processing facilities).

Because of its thick consistency, however, propylene glycol in its pure form wouldn't work well in cars. It wouldn't be as efficient a coolant as the runnier ethylene glycol, so much more of it would be needed to have the same effect.

In order to get around that problem, the scientists thinned it with water and they added pyrogenic metal oxide nanoparticles. Not only should the resulting liquid still be safe to consume, but it's also 60 percent more efficient than traditional antifreeze at transferring heat. That boost in performance is mainly due to the increased surface area offered by the particles.

"Because ACTA's patented propylene glycol/water mixture with our additive increases the heat transfer of the flow systems, vehicle manufacturers could make these systems smaller," said Clancy. "A smaller radiator would result in a lighter car, thereby increasing fuel economy and cutting emissions."

ACTA plans on first marketing the product to the food processing industry, as vehicle manufacturers would have to redesign their cooling systems in order to accommodate it. It's expected to be available within one year.

Source: American Chemical Society

7 comments
MD
Is the size/weight of a radiator in a modern car significant?? I think that the electric motors in modern car seats are probably more of a non-essential weight issue. As radiator cores are fairly compact and lightweight. Also, using aluminium wheels over steel wheels makes more of a weight difference than removing the cooling system altogether. However non-toxic is good, you may even be able to vape the coolant, just add flavour.
Gadgeteer
I must be missing something. Antifreeze formulations based on propylene glycol have been available for quite a few years now. The only advancement here might be the addition of nanoparticles.
Noel K Frothingham
Current automotive antifreeze is propylene glycol. Has been for 50 or more years.
Gadgeteer
Sorry but that's incorrect. There are quite a few propylene glycol antifreezes that are advertised as pet-safe, but the majority are still ethylene glycol.
The Skud
Any reduction in the availability of ethylene glycol is a good result. It is still the favourite of cat killers.
Siegfried Gust
" That boost in performance is mainly due to the increased surface area offered by the particles." What? Particles suspended in a liquid somehow increase it's surface area? More likely is that they offer a better thermal conductivity. I wonder how they will affect and by affected by the coolant pump over time.
Lbrewer42
"...they added pyrogenic metal oxide nanoparticles. Not only should the resulting liquid still be safe to consume...." Chocolate flavored? How about adding the same stuff they do to acetone, supposedly the bitterest substance known to man, and included only for the purpose of making people not want to drink it: denatomium benzoate It takes incredibly little to do the job. But then again, maybe it causes an undesired chemical reaction.