Antifreeze through the ages

Since automobile engines were invented, cooling has always been a problem. Something that engineers have been working on for many years, in order to achieve efficient and quality cooling.


From the moment that engineers discovered the engine as a solution to give mobility to any vehicle or machine, a serious problem arose in this regard. Specifically, we are talking about heat, generated “naturally” by the combustion process of gasoline or the corresponding fuel. This heat is necessary for the engine to reach a suitable operating temperature, around 90 degrees. However, the problem arises from the fact that this temperature can reach 150 degrees, which requires efficient cooling so that heat is not a problem. Let us know more details about how the passage of time has allowed us to have increasingly efficient solutions in this refrigeration process.


Air, the first refrigerant

In this summary of historical solutions for cooling vehicle engines, the first remedy used was not a liquid but the power of the air itself. Engines were designed to force air into the innermost areas of the engine and cool the engine through currents of fresh air. However, this solution was not the best suited to the problem, since in certain high temperature environments the hot air barely cooled the engine. All this without forgetting the problems generated by the presence of dust and other dirt in that air.

The proof that the system was not the most efficient in the world is that today this system is not used in practically any vehicle, except in some very low power and displacement mopeds or scooters. Something that required other more effective solutions.




The water, adequate but incomplete

The most logical solution to cooling a vehicle’s engine in liquid form was water. A simple and cheap solution, but it also has some drawbacks. The main problem with this liquid is its thermal properties, which do not correspond to what is necessary for what is required of this refrigerant.

As we all know, water freezes from 0 degrees and evaporates from 100 degrees. Two temperatures that, in the case of engines, are quite low when it comes to giving us adequate performance. Starting with the cold, the fact that the water freezes to zero degrees is a serious problem, since it is not an uncommon temperature. As if that were not enough, water has a bad habit of expanding its volume when it freezes, which can break all kinds of engine elements when frozen.

Something similar happens with heat. When the water exceeds 100 degrees, it evaporates and expands considerably, putting pressure on the engine components from within. A temperature that is barely 10 degrees above the optimum for an engine, around 90 degrees, so the ability to cool the vehicle is rather poor.

To solve these problems, in the early days of the automotive industry, an attempt was made to compensate for this problem, especially on the cold side, by adding wood alcohol or methyl alcohol to the water mixture in order to lower its freezing point. But the problem with this additive is that if it is already difficult to fight against the corrosion generated by water, the mixture of water and methyl alcohol was even more corrosive to the engine elements.


The first real antifreeze

All this exchange approach thanks to the studies of the French chemist Charles Adolphe Wurtz, who would work on the development of ethylene glycol, back in the distant 1856. This product is a mixture of different chemicals, in which some of the properties of both the glycerin and ethyl alcohol. The curious thing about the product is that it did not really have a specific application as such, until the product began to be used in the manufacture of explosives.

Glycol would also be obtained from this product, a simpler element derived from the original ethylene glycol, which among its properties had a high boiling point as well as a very low freezing point, which offered the engines just what was necessary to cool the engine. engine of any vehicle efficiently. The arrival of the First World War would be the key for the product to become popular, being widely used by the Germans and the Allies in the refrigeration of all types of vehicles.




The arrival of organic refrigerants

Such would be the success of the antifreezes that we have discussed, that they have practically remained without too many changes to this day. If it is true that the composition has varied according to what the engine manufacturers demand, in order to obtain the best antifreeze that each vehicle could demand, but always on the basis of the glycol that we have mentioned.

However, the latest news that we have at our disposal has been the arrival of organic antifreeze. A product whose main difference is the base used in its manufacture, in order to offer better results when cooling the engine. It is not clear when these products reached the market, but the truth is that today they are usually present in most vehicles that roll on our roads.

The main advantage of these organic antifreezes is that they generate more effective engine care, thanks to the presence of organic components in the formula through specific additives that take better care of the materials used in new engines. Therefore, the risk of corrosion is even lower. In addition, as happens in synthetic motor oils, the presence of these organic bases allows the product’s useful life to be extended up to 60,000 kilometers, compared to the 30,000 kilometers that traditional antifreeze had of useful life.



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