Solvents and Environment
Over the past three decades, the solvents industry has implemented measures to address concerns about environmental performance, especially related to air quality. In fact, air quality in Europe has continuously improved during this period. Solvent manufacturers are committed to working with industry partners, scientists and legislators to further explore the need and the means to improve air quality in a cost-effective manner. Most organic solvents rapidly biodegrade in the soil or wastewater, i.e., they do not bioaccumulate or persist in the environment, and have relatively low ecotoxicity.
Man-made chemicals, including solvents, are used in everyday items such as paint, cosmetics and cleaners to protect, beautify and clean. Solvents used in products such as coatings, inks, and consumer products generally emit substances classified as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). These emissions are controlled through incineration, recycling or using control technology. A solvent may, in certain situations, be emitted into the air after performing its function in an industrial application or in consumer products.
- Most organic solvents rapidly biodegrade in the soil or wastewater, i.e., they do not bio-accumulate or persist in the environment, and have relatively low ecotoxicity.
- Air emissions from organic solvents degrade readily. Their typical atmospheric lifetime is of a couple of days. It is only in the presence of NOx and sunlight that solvents contribute to ground level ozone, which at a certain level can impact negatively on Air Quality. For more information on ozone, please click here.
What is industry doing?
The solvents industry is committed to protecting and enhancing both the environment and society as a whole by ensuring that solvents are used to their best advantage from the beginning to the end of their life cycle.
For over 25 years the solvents industry has made substantial investments to meet current and future market needs and environmental targets:
- New production facilities - to make more efficient solvents with reduced environmental impact.
- Research and development - to produce new solvents, formulations and ways to manage their use.
- Technical support - to help customers improve their own systems and understand the options for controlling emissions.
- Independent environmental research - to understand and identify the most efficient way to minimise the impact of solvent products.
This improved solvent management and solvent efficiency means that on average it now takes only half as much solvent to produce a finished object as it did in 1980. Furthermore, industrial VOC emissions have been reduced by a factor of 2 (47% on average and up to 64% in some sectors) in about 10 years.
Technical performance: increased efficiency and lower maintenance costs
- Solvent-based paints are associated with durability (i.e.: long-lasting finishes: if you use low VOC products but have to repaint more often, the net environmental balance is zero or negative); as well as cost-effective (the raw materials are cheaper) and appropriate for all weather conditions.
- Solvents can extend the life of products through durable protective coatings - this means less corrosion, rust prevention and scratch resistance and therefore a longer life for objects as diverse as cars and bridges (i.e. less repainting). It even means solvent based adhesives provide the most durable shoe soles!
Reduced energy consumption, lower manufacturing costs
- Solvent-based paints and inks mean faster, more controlled evaporation, reducing the drying temperature required and resulting in higher productivity with less energy use. For example, solvent based paints dry up to 10 times faster at room temperature than alternatives, keeping production rates up, costs down and minimising energy consumption. This is the primary reason why solvent-based coatings still account for a majority of the industrial coatings used in Europe. Where solvent-based formulations are needed, industry has found efficient ways of dealing with their emissions to protect health and the environment.
- The coatings in food packaging help protect and safeguard food. Solvents are used to produce these coatings and ensure a high quality film. Manufacturers also reduce energy consumption during production by ensuring that evaporated solvents are recaptured in direct-fired ovens to help fuel the process, thus conserving other fuel resources and reducing costs.
Conserving resources, reducing product costs, reducing waste
- Electrostatic paint spraying is the most efficient spray process from an environmental and cost perspective because it minimises the total amount of paint required and dramatically reduces spray waste. Solvent-based paints make this technique possible because they are electrical insulators.
- Solvent-based herbicides increase their success rate simply by making the agrochemical water-resistant, covering foliage efficiently. It also significantly reduces the total amount of herbicides and pesticides sprayed.
Solvents help protect the environment
- Pentanes have replaced CFCs (ozone depleters) in a number of applications such as polyurethane insulating foams.
- Solvents are key to the manufacturing of water treatment chemicals, used in turn to treat waste water and make it drinkable.
- Solvents are required to dissolve fuel borne catalysts used in diesel particulate filters to control vehicle exhaust emissions (adding this type of catalyst to diesel fuel enables the diesel particulate filter to regenerate itself economically and safely, dramatically improving the operability and applicability of the diesel particulate filter).