General questions

What is a solvent?

Solvents are substances which are generally liquid at room temperature and atmospheric pressure and which have the ability to dissolve, suspend or extract other materials without chemically changing them. The concept of an industrial solvent goes much further than its capacity to dissolve. It extends equally to dilution, conveyance, extraction and separation without chemically altering its composition or that of the solute. They permit transportation, application, cleaning or separation of substances and hence are essential in numerous industries. The choice of a solvent very much depends on the particular technical demands of different applications.

What are the main types of solvents ?


Why are they so popular?

Solvents are very versatile: they can be used pure, but can also be produced or blended to meet very specific requirements. This means that they can be 'tailor-made' for distinct purposes. When choosing or blending a solvent, performance, health and safety, cost and environmental factors are all weighed up.
A range of chemical properties need to be taken into account such as dissolving power, viscosity and evaporation rates, colour, odour, toxicity, flammability and conservation of resources. In many ways solvents are 'guests' of the process they help to make work. Once their job is complete solvents are either incinerated and energy recovered, recycled and returned to repeat the process again - often many times, or they evaporate as part of their use, for example when paint dries.
In many applications, solvent emissions from evaporation are minimised with techniques such as thermal oxidation, where heat is used to destroy the volatile solvent component.

What are the main uses of solvents ?

The largest demand for solvents comes from the paint and coatings industry which relies on almost two million tonnes every year. But the pharmaceutical sector is a growing market showing a steady increase in demand year on year, because of solvents' invaluable contribution to the purity of modern medicines.

Where can I find out more about solvents ?

Visit the website of ESIG* : the European Solvents Industry Group (part of CEFIC)



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