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by Dom Ruggeri

April 2003:

Early on in my career, I interviewed with a small formulating house. At that time, I would have never imagined that I would one day become the lab manager of this facility.  I admit, many of the project requests caused me to scratch my head and ask if they were serious.  I am willing to bet that you the readers asked that same question many times yourselves.

I was still working for this small formulating house back in the mid nineties. The company manufactured a product that contained a large amount of glycerin.  As luck would have it, one day our major glycerin supplier announced a rather large price increase due to a shortage of natural glycerin.  My first reaction was that we change over to the synthetic glycerin. I was told in no uncertain terms that the synthetic material did not work as well as the natural glycerin. My task was clear formulate away from glycerin and do it yesterday. The glycerin was used as a lubricant in this particular formulation and surely there had to be something out there that would lubricate as well if not better. My luck was holding. There was a free acid material that when neutralized with TEA would not only yield excellent lubricity, solubility, but it ran cleaner then glycerin at about one third the cost. All this and cheaper too, so what’s not to like?

Falex pin and V block testing verified the lubrication properties. The procedure proved that the new lubricant was better then glycerin. Now was time for a field trial. The VP of sales and I assembled a list of potential customers based on their ability to isolate a machine and willingness to try out new technology. When we both felt that our ducks were in a row, we presented the new product to the CEO. He looked at the new formulation and without blinking an eye told me this is not a new formula cause all I did was change the lubricant. I was stunned. I always thought that when you changed the lubricant and stabilized the formulation that was a significant enough change to constitute a new product. Guess I was wrong.

The product was never field tested. Eventually supplies of glycerin loosened and there was no need for this material. I left this company to further my professional goals at Crystal, Inc-PMC. As far as I knew, this product was left on the shelf. About two years later I ran into my successor at an STLE meeting he informed me that this advanced product I developed saved a huge piece of business for them about a year earlier and that the CEO was still against using it. So who’s the real April fool?

I am sure that many of you now know that Shell Oil is getting out of the petroleum sulfonate business. I admit there is supposed to be a smooth transition period but with Shell serving about 80% of the market, can the other producers of sulfonate meet the demand? I suspect that many fluid formulators will have to do some major reformulating work. What are our options?

1. Emulsifier Bases:
These materials are designed so that the formulator just needs to add oil and whatever other additives the formulation requires and you should have an instant coolant. Remember, many of these materials contain sulfonate as such they will have to be reformulated. Hence the emulsification properties may change and the foaming properties willchange. Therefore, this approach may not be as easy as a drop in replacement.

2. Synthetic Sulfonate:
These are viable options. However, you will have to rebalance your formulation. In addition, you may find a new set of compatibility issues. Once again, not a drop in replacement. Further, these materials have a tendency to foam more than natural sulfonate so you will have foaming issues to resolve.

3. Surfactants:
This option requires some very fancy formulating and an eye on costs. However, it is the most versatile by blending various surfactant types you can successfully emulsify anything. Use care and check your long-term emulsion stability and emulsification properties. I once ran into a problem with an emulsifier package using only surfactant. The product failed to emulsify after 90 days.

As always. our broad-brush approach. Yes, I will continue to discuss non-sulfonate formulations in future articles. My friends, I really wish I could end this article with "April Fools" but well, one fool in this article is sufficient. As always should you have any questions please feel free to e-mail me at the magazine.

Good Luck