🏭 Dow's vote for PCE

Dow Chemical, the EPA, and PCE usage. Plus: propylene glycol.


Good morning. Trying something new today: going with a single story that I can spend a little more time on but would normally avoid because of unfamiliarity.

Dow thinks we should keep using PCE

Midland-based chemical company, Dow Chemical, provided some commentary on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) push to ban the use of perchloroethylene (PCE) as a cargo-ship-cleaning solvent.

A little background:
PCE is probably better known as tetrachloroethylene: a chlorinated hydrocarbon we produce by further chlorinating ethylene dichloride. (Ethylene dichloride, aka EDC, is produced by reacting ethylene with chlorine, and most of that EDC is thermally cracked to make vinyl chloride, which is in turn polymerized to make polyvinyl chloride.) We’ve been making and using this stuff for a while—it was first synthesized in the early 19th century, and it’s commonly used as a dry cleaning solvent.

Okay, so what’s going on here?
The EPA proposed some new (increased) regulations for the use of PCE in commercial applications, and Dow spoke up about a specific application: the use of PCE as a cargo-ship-cleaning solvent. Basically, if you want your shipping vessel to be able to transport different types of chemicals, you’re going to need to clean it out before you load something new in. This can be done with water in some cases, but in other cases there can be no water contamination, so highly volatile stuff like PCE is used to ensure that that’s not the case.

Connecting the dots:
Dow sold their chlorine business to Olin back in 2015, so it seems like the threat to Dow is purely operational: the company produces a variety of isocyanates (which are used to make polyurethanes), and isocyanates are particularly sensitive to the presence of water (they react with water to produce CO2, which not only is a safety issue, but a product destruction issue), so Dow frequently uses PCE when exporting its isocyanates. It’s not that we’d suddenly be unable to produce isocyanates, it’s just that Dow would have to adapt, and it would probably be marginally more expensive.


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Some more headlines

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  • Germany's Covestro decided on a new CFO

  • Neste is partnering with Suntory, ENEOS, and Mitsubishi on PET bottles

  • OMV wrapped up its turnaround at its refinery outside of Vienna, Austria

  • Avantium scored about €1 million for participating in the Rebiolution project

Molecule of The Day

Today's MOTD is the most interesting one of all: propylene glycol.

First produced by this French chemist in 1859, we didn't start making this molecule (referred to as MPG) commercially until the Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation set up shop in 1931.

Today, the world produces roughly 2 million tons of this stuff each year primarily by the noncatalytic hydrolysis of propylene oxide. A lot of it (about 45%) is used to make thermosets and polyurethanes. The rest of it ends up in things like coffee-based drinks, pharmaceuticals, deodorant, and vape juice just to name a few.

The main companies producing all of this MPG (in the US) are Shell, Dow Chemical, LyondellBasell, and Huntsman.

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