Ethanol Amines (Ethanolamine)

The organic chemical family known collectively as ethanol amines — or ethanolamines (EOA) — is highly useful to a number of industries because its molecules are both primary amines and alcohols. As amines, ethanolamines share a relation to ammonia — NH3 — but with one or more of the hydrogen atoms replaced by groups of hydrocarbons.

As predicted by its chemical makeup, ethanolamines have an odor somewhat like ammonia. However, the larger the amine, the more complex its smell becomes. Other than its distinctive odor, ethanolamines have no color and is a liquid with moderate viscosity.

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The Families of Ethanolamines

The naming of amines — and therefore ethanolamines — can be somewhat confusing at times. As a rule of thumb, it's helpful to remember that there are three overall groups of amines that derive their names from the number of hydrogen atoms eventually replaced in the final chemical compound. They are as follows:

  • Primary Amines: As the name implies, a primary amine or monoethanolamine (MEA) replaces only one of ammonia’s original three hydrogen atoms.
  • Secondary Amines: In the making of a secondary amine or diethanolamine (DEA), two of ammonia’s three hydrogen atoms are replaced.
  • Tertiary Amines: In the third and largest compound — a tertiary amine or triethanolamine (TEA) — all three hydrogen atoms from the original ammonia molecule have been replaced.

Since ethanolamines exhibit the chemical properties of both alcohols and amines, their uses are widespread. Their amine characteristics make them somewhat alkaline, which is why they form soaps or salts in reaction to acids. At the same time, their qualities as alcohols make them ideal for absorbing moisture and eliminating unwanted water molecules.

Popular Applications of Ethanolamines

Ethanolamines are a versatile and popular group of organic compounds. Used in everything from cosmetics manufacturing to gas refinement, you will find ethanolamines serving an integral purpose in the following applications:

  • Agriculture: Monoethanolamine used in 1:1 ratio with Boric Acid as a plant supplement. Diethanolamine and Triethanolamine are used to produce herbicides like round-up.
  • Preservation of wood: Monoethanolamine is a common ingredient in preservation products aimed at extending the life-cycle of wood used in outdoor settings. Its ability to permeate the surface of wood makes it highly effective in this application.
  • Cosmetics and Personal Care: Both monoethanolamine and diethanolamine are used in the cosmetics and personal care industries, especially in the production of shampoos, soaps, and foaming bath liquids. Triethanolamine is used in the production of shaving crème and gel type hand cleaners.
  • Cement Production: To aid in both the quality of cement and the reduction of the energy required to manufacture it, triethanolamine is a popular additive to cement production and grinding enhancers. TEA used to help control the water evaporation rate.
  • Metal Working Fluids, Surfactants, Textiles, and Cleaners: as cutting fluids/ corrosion inhibitors / water soluble lubricants. DEA into surfactants Cocoamide- DEA. Textile chemicals like softners, scouring agents and finishes. Laundry detergents and I & I cleaners.
  • Oil Field Chemicals, Biocides, and Gas Refinement: Monoethanolamine into MEA Triazine, biocide production, Ethanolamines are very effective at removing moisture and other contaminants, like sulfur and CO2, during the production and refinement stages of gas.
  • Water Alkalinization: To prevent the corrosion of components made of metal, ethanolamines are often used to control the pH levels of water in power plants — especially in nuclear power production that uses reactors containing pressurized units of water.

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