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.