Polyol
Overview
 
A polyol is an alcohol
Alcohol
In chemistry, an alcohol is an organic compound in which the hydroxy functional group is bound to a carbon atom. In particular, this carbon center should be saturated, having single bonds to three other atoms....

 containing multiple hydroxyl groups. In two technological disciplines the term "polyol" has a special meaning: food science
Food science
Food science is a study concerned with all technical aspects of foods, beginning with harvesting or slaughtering, and ending with its cooking and consumption, an ideology commonly referred to as "from field to fork"...

 and polymer chemistry.
Sugar alcohol
Sugar alcohol
A sugar alcohol is a hydrogenated form of carbohydrate, whose carbonyl group has been reduced to a primary or secondary hydroxyl group . Sugar alcohols have the general formula Hn+1H, whereas sugars have HnHCO...

s, a class of polyols, are commonly added to foods because of their lower caloric content than sugar
Sugar
Sugar is a class of edible crystalline carbohydrates, mainly sucrose, lactose, and fructose, characterized by a sweet flavor.Sucrose in its refined form primarily comes from sugar cane and sugar beet...

s; however, they are also, in general, less sweet, and are often combined with high-intensity sweeteners
Sugar substitute
A sugar substitute is a food additive that duplicates the effect of sugar in taste, usually with less food energy. Some sugar substitutes are natural and some are synthetic. Those that are not natural are, in general, called artificial sweeteners....

. They are also added to chewing gum
Chewing gum
Chewing gum is a type of gum traditionally made of chicle, a natural latex product, or synthetic rubber known as polyisobutylene. For economical and quality reasons, many modern chewing gums use rubber instead of chicle...

 because they are not metabolized (broken down) by bacteria in the mouth, so they do not contribute to tooth decay.
Encyclopedia
A polyol is an alcohol
Alcohol
In chemistry, an alcohol is an organic compound in which the hydroxy functional group is bound to a carbon atom. In particular, this carbon center should be saturated, having single bonds to three other atoms....

 containing multiple hydroxyl groups. In two technological disciplines the term "polyol" has a special meaning: food science
Food science
Food science is a study concerned with all technical aspects of foods, beginning with harvesting or slaughtering, and ending with its cooking and consumption, an ideology commonly referred to as "from field to fork"...

 and polymer chemistry.

Polyols in food science

Sugar alcohol
Sugar alcohol
A sugar alcohol is a hydrogenated form of carbohydrate, whose carbonyl group has been reduced to a primary or secondary hydroxyl group . Sugar alcohols have the general formula Hn+1H, whereas sugars have HnHCO...

s, a class of polyols, are commonly added to foods because of their lower caloric content than sugar
Sugar
Sugar is a class of edible crystalline carbohydrates, mainly sucrose, lactose, and fructose, characterized by a sweet flavor.Sucrose in its refined form primarily comes from sugar cane and sugar beet...

s; however, they are also, in general, less sweet, and are often combined with high-intensity sweeteners
Sugar substitute
A sugar substitute is a food additive that duplicates the effect of sugar in taste, usually with less food energy. Some sugar substitutes are natural and some are synthetic. Those that are not natural are, in general, called artificial sweeteners....

. They are also added to chewing gum
Chewing gum
Chewing gum is a type of gum traditionally made of chicle, a natural latex product, or synthetic rubber known as polyisobutylene. For economical and quality reasons, many modern chewing gums use rubber instead of chicle...

 because they are not metabolized (broken down) by bacteria in the mouth, so they do not contribute to tooth decay. Maltitol
Maltitol
Maltitol is a sugar alcohol used as a sugar substitute. It has 75-90% of the sweetness of sucrose and nearly identical properties, except for browning. It is used to replace table sugar because it has fewer calories, does not promote tooth decay, and has a somewhat lesser effect on blood glucose...

, sorbitol
Sorbitol
Sorbitol, also known as glucitol, Sorbogem® and Sorbo®, is a sugar alcohol that the human body metabolizes slowly. It can be obtained by reduction of glucose, changing the aldehyde group to a hydroxyl group. Sorbitol is found in apples, pears, peaches, and prunes...

, xylitol
Xylitol
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol sweetener used as a naturally occurring sugar substitute. It is found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, and can be extracted from various berries, oats, and mushrooms, as well as fibrous material such as corn husks and sugar cane bagasse, and birch...

 and isomalt
Isomalt
Isomalt is a sugar substitute, a type of sugar alcohol, used primarily for its sugar-like physical properties. It has only a small impact on blood sugar levels and does not promote tooth decay. It has 2 kilocalories/g, half the calories of sugars...

 are some of the more common types. Sugar alcohols may be formed under mild reducing conditions from their analogue sugar
Sugar
Sugar is a class of edible crystalline carbohydrates, mainly sucrose, lactose, and fructose, characterized by a sweet flavor.Sucrose in its refined form primarily comes from sugar cane and sugar beet...

s.

Polyols in polymer chemistry

In polymer chemistry
Polymer chemistry
Polymer chemistry or macromolecular chemistry is a multidisciplinary science that deals with the chemical synthesis and chemical properties of polymers or macromolecules. According to IUPAC recommendations, macromolecules refer to the individual molecular chains and are the domain of chemistry...

, polyols are compounds with multiple hydroxyl
Hydroxyl
A hydroxyl is a chemical group containing an oxygen atom covalently bonded with a hydrogen atom. In inorganic chemistry, the hydroxyl group is known as the hydroxide ion, and scientists and reference works generally use these different terms though they refer to the same chemical structure in...

 functional group
Functional group
In organic chemistry, functional groups are specific groups of atoms within molecules that are responsible for the characteristic chemical reactions of those molecules. The same functional group will undergo the same or similar chemical reaction regardless of the size of the molecule it is a part of...

s available for organic reaction
Organic reaction
Organic reactions are chemical reactions involving organic compounds. The basic organic chemistry reaction types are addition reactions, elimination reactions, substitution reactions, pericyclic reactions, rearrangement reactions, photochemical reactions and redox reactions. In organic synthesis,...

s. A molecule with two hydroxyl groups is a diol, one with three is a triol, one with four is a tetrol and so on.

The main use of polymeric polyols is as reactants to make other polymers. They can be reacted with isocyanates to make polyurethanes, and this use consumes most polyether polyols. These material are ultimately used to make elastomeric shoe soles, fibers (Spandex
Spandex
Spandex or elastane is a synthetic fibre known for its exceptional elasticity. It is strong, but less durable than natural Latex, its major non-synthetic competitor. It is a polyurethane-polyurea copolymer that was co-invented in 1959 by chemists C. L. Sandquist and Joseph Shivers at DuPont's...

 for example), foam insulation for appliances (refrigerator
Refrigerator
A refrigerator is a common household appliance that consists of a thermally insulated compartment and a heat pump that transfers heat from the inside of the fridge to its external environment so that the inside of the fridge is cooled to a temperature below the ambient temperature of the room...

s and freezers), adhesives, mattresses, automotive seats and so on.

Monomeric polyols such as pentaerythritol, ethylene glycol
Ethylene glycol
Ethylene glycol is an organic compound widely used as an automotive antifreeze and a precursor to polymers. In its pure form, it is an odorless, colorless, syrupy, sweet-tasting liquid...

 and glycerin often serve as the starting point for polymeric polyols. Naturally occurring polyols like castor oil
Castor oil
Castor oil is a vegetable oil obtained from the castor bean . Castor oil is a colorless to very pale yellow liquid with mild or no odor or taste. Its boiling point is and its density is 961 kg/m3...

 and sucrose
Sucrose
Sucrose is the organic compound commonly known as table sugar and sometimes called saccharose. A white, odorless, crystalline powder with a sweet taste, it is best known for its role in human nutrition. The molecule is a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose with the molecular formula...

 can also be used to make synthetic polymeric polyols. These materials are often referred to as the "initiators" for the polymeric polyols, but they should not be confused with free radical "initiators" used to promote other polymerization reactions. The functional group used as the starting point for a polymeric polyol need not be a hydroxyl group; there are a number of important polyols which are built up from amine
Amine
Amines are organic compounds and functional groups that contain a basic nitrogen atom with a lone pair. Amines are derivatives of ammonia, wherein one or more hydrogen atoms have been replaced by a substituent such as an alkyl or aryl group. Important amines include amino acids, biogenic amines,...

s. A primary amino group (-NH2) often functions as the starting point for two polymeric chains, especially in the case of polyether polyols.

The polymeric chains built out from the initiator are usually polyesters or polyethers. Polyether polyols are made by reacting epoxides like ethylene oxide
Ethylene oxide
Ethylene oxide, also called oxirane, is the organic compound with the formula . It is a cyclic ether. This means that it is composed of two alkyl groups attached to an oxygen atom in a cyclic shape . This colorless flammable gas with a faintly sweet odor is the simplest epoxide, a three-membered...

 or propylene oxide with the multifunctional initiator in the presence of a catalyst, often a strong base such as potassium hydroxide
Potassium hydroxide
Potassium hydroxide is an inorganic compound with the formula KOH, commonly called caustic potash.Along with sodium hydroxide , this colorless solid is a prototypical strong base. It has many industrial and niche applications. Most applications exploit its reactivity toward acids and its corrosive...

 or a double metal cyanide catalyst such as zinc hexacyanocobaltate-t-butanol complex. Common polyether diols are polyethylene glycol
Polyethylene glycol
Polyethylene glycol is a polyether compound with many applications from industrial manufacturing to medicine. It has also been known as polyethylene oxide or polyoxyethylene , depending on its molecular weight, and under the tradename Carbowax.-Available forms:PEG, PEO, or POE refers to an...

, polypropylene glycol
Polypropylene glycol
Polypropylene glycol or polypropylene oxide is the polymer of propylene glycol. Chemically it is a polyether. The term polypropylene glycol or PPG is reserved for low to medium range molar mass polymer when the nature of the end-group, which is usually a hydroxyl group, still matters...

, and poly(tetramethylene ether) glycol. The examples shown below are fairly low molecular weight triols based on glycerin (a triol) being reacted with propylene oxide
Propylene oxide
Propylene oxide is an organic compound with the molecular formula CH3CHCH2O. This colourless volatile liquid is produced on a large scale industrially, its major application being its use for the production of polyether polyols for use in making polyurethane plastics...

, ethylene oxide
Ethylene oxide
Ethylene oxide, also called oxirane, is the organic compound with the formula . It is a cyclic ether. This means that it is composed of two alkyl groups attached to an oxygen atom in a cyclic shape . This colorless flammable gas with a faintly sweet odor is the simplest epoxide, a three-membered...

 or a combination of the two. In reality, the chains would not be of equal length in any one molecule and there would be a distribution of molecular weight polyols within the material. Polyether polyols account for about 90% of the polymeric polyols used industrially; the balance is polyester polyols.
Another class of polymeric polyols is the polyester
Polyester
Polyester is a category of polymers which contain the ester functional group in their main chain. Although there are many polyesters, the term "polyester" as a specific material most commonly refers to polyethylene terephthalate...

s. Polyesters are formed by condensation or step-growth polymerization
Step-growth polymerization
Step-growth polymerization refers to a type of polymerization mechanism in which bi-functional or multifunctional monomers react to form first dimers, then trimers, longer oligomers and eventually long chain polymers. Many naturally occurring and some synthetic polymers are produced by step-growth...

 of diols and dicarboxylic acid
Dicarboxylic acid
Dicarboxylic acids are organic compounds that contain two carboxylic acid functional groups. In molecular formulae for dicarboxylic acids, these groups are often written as HOOC-R-COOH, where R may be an alkyl, alkenyl, alkynyl, or aryl group...

s (or their derivatives), for example diethylene glycol
Diethylene glycol
Diethylene glycol is an organic compound with the formula 2O. It is a colorless, practically odorless, poisonous, and hygroscopic liquid with a sweetish taste. It is miscible in water, alcohol, ether, acetone, and ethylene glycol. DEG is a widely used solvent...

 reacting with phthalic acid
Phthalic acid
Phthalic acid is an aromatic dicarboxylic acid, with formula C6H42. It is an isomer of isophthalic acid and terephthalic acid. Although phthalic acid is of modest commercial importance, the closely related derivative phthalic anhydride is a commodity chemical produced on a large...

. Alternatively, the hydroxyl group and the carboxylic acid (or their derivatives) may be within the same molecule, as in the case of caprolactone
Caprolactone
ε-Caprolactone or simply caprolactone is a cyclic ester, a member of the lactone family, with a seven-membered ring with the formula 5CO2. This colorless liquid is miscible with most organic solvents...

. The example below is an idealized structure that could be obtained by reacting pentaerythritol
Pentaerythritol
Pentaerythritol is the organic compound with the formula C5H12O4. This white, crystalline polyol with the neopentane backbone is a versatile building block for the preparation of many polyfunctionalized compounds such as the explosive PETN and pentaerythritol tetraacrylate...

 (a tetrol) with gamma-butyrolactone
Gamma-Butyrolactone
gamma-Butyrolactone is a hygroscopic colorless oily liquid with a weak characteristic odor and is soluble in water. GBL is a common solvent and reagent in chemistry and is used as an aroma compound, as a stain remover, as a superglue remover, as a paint stripper, and as a solvent in some wet...

.
Hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene
Hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene
Hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene is a polymer of butadiene terminated at each end with a hydroxyl functional group. It reacts with diisocyanate to form polyurethane, a stable and easily stored synthetic material....

 is a polyol used to produce polyurethane
Polyurethane
A polyurethane is any polymer composed of a chain of organic units joined by carbamate links. Polyurethane polymers are formed through step-growth polymerization, by reacting a monomer with another monomer in the presence of a catalyst.Polyurethanes are...

. Polyester polyols from vegetable oils, known as natural oil polyols
Natural oil polyols
Natural oil polyols, also known as NOPs or biopolyols, are polyols derived from vegetable oils by several different techniques. The primary use for these materials is in the production of polyurethanes...

or NOPs, are replacing some epoxide-based polyols.
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