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Application of Glycerin

Food industry

Pharmaceutical and personal care applications

Personal lubricants commonly contain glycerol
Glycerol is an ingredient in products such as hair gel
Glycerol suppositories used as laxatives

Botanical extracts

  • When utilized in "tincture" method extractions, specifically as a 10% solution, glycerol prevents tannins from precipitating in ethanol extracts of plants (tinctures). It is also used as an "alcohol-free" alternative to ethanol as a solvent in preparing herbal extractions. It is less extractive when utilized in a standard tincture methodology. Alcohol-based tinctures can also have the alcohol removed and replaced with glycerol for its preserving properties. Such products are not "alcohol-free" in a scientific sense, as glycerol contains three hydroxyl groups. Fluid extractmanufacturers often extract herbs in hot water before adding glycerol to make glycerites.
  • When used as a primary "true" alcohol-free botanical extraction solvent in non-tincture based methodologies, glycerol has been shown to possess a high degree of extractive versatility for botanicals including removal of numerous constituents and complex compounds, with an extractive power that can rival that of alcohol and water–alcohol solutions. That glycerol possesses such high extractive power assumes it is utilized with dynamic methodologies as opposed to standard passive "tincturing" methodologies that are better suited to alcohol. Glycerol possesses the intrinsic property of not denaturing or rendering a botanical's constituents inert (as alcohols – i.e. ethyl (grain) alcohol, methyl (wood) alcohol, etc., do). Glycerol is a stable preserving agent for botanical extracts that, when utilized in proper concentrations in an extraction solvent base, does not allow inverting or reduction-oxidation of a finished extract's constituents, even over several years. Both glycerol and ethanol are viable preserving agents. Glycerol is bacteriostatic in its action, and ethanol is bactericidal in its action.

Electronic cigarette liquid

Glycerin is often used in electronic cigarettes to create the vapor
A bottle of flavored "e-liquid" for "vaping" shows glycerin as one of the ingredients


  • Like ethylene glycol and propylene glycol, glycerol is a non-ionic kosmotrope that forms strong hydrogen bonds with water molecules, competing with water-water hydrogen bonds. This interaction disrupts the formation of ice . The minimum freezing point temperature is about −36 °F (−38 °C) corresponding to 70% glycerol in water.
  • Glycerol was historically used as an anti-freeze for automotive applications before being replaced by ethylene glycol, which has a lower freezing point. While the minimum freezing point of a glycerol-water mixture is higher than an ethylene glycol-water mixture, glycerol is not toxic and is being re-examined for use in automotive applications.
  • In the laboratory, glycerol is a common component of solvents for enzymatic reagents stored at temperatures below 0 °C due to the depression of the freezing temperature. It is also used as a cryoprotectant where the glycerol is dissolved in water to reduce damage by ice crystals to laboratory organisms that are stored in frozen solutions, such as bacterianematodes, and mammalian embryos.

Chemical intermediate

  • Glycerol is used to produce nitroglycerin, which is an essential ingredient of various explosives such as dynamitegelignite, and propellants like cordite. Reliance on soap-making to supply co-product glycerol made it difficult to increase production to meet wartime demand. Hence, synthetic glycerol processes were national defense priorities in the days leading up to World War II.
  • Nitroglycerin, also known as glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) is commonly used to relieve angina pectoris, taken in the form of sub-lingual tablets, or as an aerosol spray. lprop_liquids.htm Acoustic Properties for Liquids].
  • Glycerol is used as fill for pressure gauges to dampen vibration. External vibrations, from compressors, engines, pumps, etc., produce harmonic vibrations within Bourdon gaugesthat can cause the needle to move excessively, giving inaccurate readings. The excessive swinging of the needle can also damage internal gears or other components, causing premature wear. Glycerol, when poured into a gauge to replace the air space, reduces the harmonic vibrations that are transmitted to the needle, increasing the lifetime and reliability of the gauge.


  • Glycerol is used by the film industry when filming scenes involving water to stop areas from drying out too quickly.
  • Glycerine is used—combined with water (around in a 1:99 proportion)—to create a smooth smoky environment. The solution is vaporized and pushed into the room with a ventilator.
  • Ultrasonic couplant
  • Glycerol can be sometimes used as replacement for water in ultrasonic testing, as it has favourably higher acoustic impedance (2.42MRayl vs 1.483MRayl for water) while being relatively safe, non-toxic, non-corrosive and relatively low cost.

Internal combustion fuel

  • Glycerol is also used to power diesel generators supplying electricity for the FIA Formula E series of electric race cars.

Research on uses

  • Research has been conducted to try to make value-added products from glycerol obtained from biodiesel production. Examples (aside from combustion of waster glycerol):

Hydrogen gas production

Glycerine acetate is a potential fuel additive.

Conversion to propylene glycol

Conversion to acrolein

Conversion to ethanol

Conversion to epichlorohydrin, a raw material for epoxy resins