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Ethylene Oxide Proving Versatile & Valuable

12/7/16 8:09 AM

Although most consumers will probably never interact with ethylene oxide (EtO) themselves, everyday life would look significantly different without this crucial chemical compound. Heading into 2017, global trends indicate that the market for EtO is due to grow by as much as 6% between now and 2020, making EtO an extremely valuable commodity.

Ethylene oxide was first described by French chemist Charles-Adolphe Wurtz in 1859. At room temperature, the compound forms a colorless gas with a faintly sweet, ether-like smell. Due to its highly reactive nature, EtO is flammable and dangerous to humans.

Short-term exposure to EtO will leave people nauseous and disoriented, while chronic exposure promotes the creation of cancer-causing free radicals. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, stomach cancer and leukemia in particular have been tied to long-term EtO exposure.

With that said, the same reactivity that makes EtO dangerous also makes it highly useful for altering and transforming other chemicals into useful everyday materials. Antifreeze, industrial solvents, detergents, polyester fiber and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic are all created through processes that involve EtO.

A variety of factors are stimulating growth in the EtO market.

One driving force is the packaging industry, which favors PET plastic because it’s lightweight, doesn’t interfere with the taste or smell of food and can be easily formed into resealable bottles. PET bottles have become a ubiquitous part of daily life over the last twenty-five years, containing everything from beverages to household cleaners.

Additionally, heightened global awareness of hospital acquired infections (particularly in the U.S. and Europe) has helped expand the market for EtO sterilization, another key use of ethylene oxide. EtO sterilization takes place at much lower temperature and humidity levels than common steam sterilization, making the process ideal for eliminating pathogens from the delicate plastic components within many medical devices.

The continuing economic growth of the Asia-Pacific region is responsible for much of EtO’s projected growth as well. Some forecasts project ethylene oxide business to generate as much as 49 billion U.S. dollars throughout East Asia and the Pacific Rim by 2020. Given the region’s growing population and the elimination of China’s long-held one child policy, the potential market for consumer products packaged in PET containers and clothing made from polyester is greater than ever before.

MadgeTech, the New Hampshire data logger company, supports the growing EtO market with a variety of intrinsically safe data loggers for EtO sterilization validation. These loggers verify that sterilization equipment is operating correctly while also preventing ignition and protecting engineers with a spark-free design. To stay up to date on industry news, be sure to follow MadgeTech on Twitter at @MadgeTech.

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