How Chemistry Helps Us

Survive Winter

Slippery sidewalks and scraping ice off your car window is not a fun part of winter. But did you ever stop to consider how chemistry helps us to survive frigid temperatures? From the hand warmers that you squeeze in your coat pockets to the liquid solutions that deice airplanes allowing them to take off on time, chemistry is at work to make winter more safe and comfortable, while minimizing environmental impact.

Learn more about how chemistry enhances our lives during the most bone-chilling of temperatures.

Hand Warmers

These disposable packets that keep your hands and toes cozy are based on a basic exothermic, or heat-producing, reaction. When you tear open the outer packaging, oxygen from the air reacts with iron powder on the inside of the pouch to produce iron oxide – or rust —and heat.  Sodium chloride (salt) and water are included in the iron mixture to help catalyze the reaction. Activated charcoal and an absorbent material, usually a natural mineral called vermiculite, helps retain moisture and evenly distribute the heat, which averages about 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Hand warmers can vary in the length of time they emit heat, depending on the amount of iron powder included and the size of the holes of their outer pouch, which controls how much oxygen flows in.

"A thin layer of ice on a plane’s wings and tail, as fine as sandpaper, can interfere with lift for takeoff."

Deicing Airplanes


Ice makes for dangerous driving conditions and skating-rink-like walkways, but did you know that it’s also a major impediment to flying in the winter? A thin layer of ice on a plane’s wings and tail, as fine as sandpaper, can interfere with lift for takeoff. That’s why airports around the globe rely on high-tech deicing fluids to ensure that planes are safe for takeoff and while flying in the air. Look out the window at an airport on a day with freezing temperatures, and you’ll see deicing trucks blasting planes with fluids. Traditionally, deicing fluid was made of a solution of ethylene glycol, a type of alcohol that lowers the freezing point of water. (Chloride salts, which are commonly used as road deicers, are too corrosive for planes.) Other materials are added to the solution to reduce corrosion, thicken and make it stick better to the plane’s surface.

To further enhance performance and reduce environmental impact, Clariant has developed Safewing® fluids using innovative chemistry technology. Safewing is a line of deicing products based on the more sustainable propylene glycol. These fluids help minimize the production of foam that might obstruct operations, making it easier to see the cleaned wing surface and help protect against environmental corrosion. What’s more, they’re biodegradable and can be recycled

High-Tech Fabrics

Whether you’re hitting the slopes or shoveling the walkway, high-tech clothing has revolutionized the way we keep warm and dry while being active outdoors. Synthetic fabrics, such as nylon and polyester were developed thanks to chemistry innovations – engineering polymers to create light-weight materials. Chemistry advances also helped create popular outdoor apparel today that allows sweat to evaporate while being waterproof. U.S. Army researchers are currently testing fabrics made with a silver nanowire coating that can conduct electricity and generate heat Wearers would be able to dial up or down the heat, as simply as adjusting an electric blanket.


Going with the 'Flow' in the Cold

At freezing temperatures, the diesel fuel that powers cars, trucks, trains and boats needs special “cold flow” additives to keep the fuel flowing properly. Diesel contains hydrocarbons (paraffin waxes) that turn cloudy and gel up into a solid when temperatures drop. This clumping can block the fuel filter, which can also cause the engine to stop.

To help prevent this, Clariant has developed more than 100 different grades of additives in the DODIFLOW ®/DODIWAX® series to improve the flow of diesel and other petroleum products. Clariant’s additives interact with the waxes as they begin to drop out of solution in cold temperatures, keeping the formed crystals sufficiently small and dispersed in the fuel so they do not block the fuel filter.

Sustainable biodiesel fuels have their own specific challenges in the winter because they contain a variety of vegetable oils that are more sensitive to cold temperatures than fossil diesel. Clariant has also developed a line of Biodiesel Flow Improver products to keep these alternative fuels performing well at cold temperatures

Fuels with a properly selected flow improver, offered through Clariant’s DODIFLOW®/DODIWAX® line of products, will enable you to start and drive your vehicle all year.


Joana Isabel Kelp
Joana Isabel Kelp
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