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Triethanolamine and its variants

Choosing the correct grade of TEA

Triethanolamine is commonly found in countless formulations that range from industrial metalworking formulas to baby shampoo. There are four common grades of TEA, and unfortunately, the nomenclature for the different grades often confuses even experienced chemists and formulators. At best, this can lead to ordering the wrong product and wasting time in correcting the error. At worst, buying the wrong grade could lead to unintentionally adding a suspected carcinogen (diethanolamine) to your personal care products.

Are you sure that you want “Triethanolamine 85%?”

Triethanolamine is often diluted with 15% water to lower the freeze point and make handling easier. Unfortunately, it’s often also cut with 15% diethanolamine for improved corrosion resistance. This leads to endless ambiguity when a customer orders “Triethanolamine 85%.”

In brief, if you want water with your triethanolamine, you want to order the low-freeze grade (LFG). If you want diethanolamine in it, you want to order triethanolamine 85%.

Refer to the following chart to see the differences:


Official Name
(Ask for this when ordering)
TEA DEA Water Freeze Point (°F) Often used because…
Triethanolamine 99% 99% min 0.4% max 0.2% max 70 You have a hot room or drum heaters so handling is not an issue.
Triethanolamine 99% LFG 85% 0.35% max 15% 23 You don’t want your TEA to freeze at room temperature
Triethanolamine 85% 85% 15% 0.2% max 64 The addition of DEA aids in corrosion resistance for metalworking and lubricating fluids.
Triethanolamine 85% LFG 70% 13% 15% 16 It’s like TEA 85% but has a lower freeze point

Created with the HTML Table Generator

My goal with this article is to help eliminate confusion when ordering triethanolamine for your products. As always, if you have questions, contact your FBC Chemical sales representative for advice on which grade is right for your application.

Introducing GTL: A Newly Invented Class of Solvents

Shell Chemicals has recently commercialized a new process that turns natural gas into a synthetic paraffinic fluid. They call this process gas to liquid (GTL) technology. With this technological advance, Shell has introduced a new class of solvents to world chemical markets. Shell’s new GTL line offers several advantages over petroleum-derived solvents:

  • Zero odor
  • Water-white color
  • Clean burning
  • Readily biodegradable
  • Low toxicity

GTL fluids have an extremely low aromatic content and non-detectable quantities of sulfur, benzene, heavy metals, and other impurities. As this is brand new technology, there’s not yet a precedent for where GTLs are best suited. We recommend trying them where odor, color, or environmental concerns are important to you. Currently, FBC Chemical has two GTL products available for sampling – G75 and G85.



Flash point (°C)



Boiling range (°C)

188 – 343

198 – 343

Kari-butanol value



Vapor pressure @ 20° C (mm Hg)



Viscosity @ 20° C (cSt)



Shell built a $20 billion state of the art refinery in Qatar to keep up with the anticipated demand. You can learn about that project in this 4 minute video:

FBC is proud to have been chosen as a selected distributor for these new products. Contact your FBC sales representative today for further specifications or to request a sample.

Understanding Biodegradability

The word “biodegradable” is defined as “Capable of decaying through action of living organisms.”

From this definition one can gather that “biodegradability” is simply the capacity for a particular material to biodegrade.

Many products in our industry fall under scrutiny for their biodegradability as they often must undergo a treatment cycle in a wastewater treatment plant. The time period used for this cycle is 28 days. The vernacular of the chemical industry offers two main terms to describe biodegradability based on this time period.

Inherently Biodegradable:

When a product is classified as “Inherently Biodegradable,” it means it will biodegrade to its natural state, when subjected to sunlight, water and microbial activity from as little as 20% to less than 60% in 28 days.

Readily Biodegradable:

Products are considered “Readily Biodegradable” when they have the natural ability to biodegrade to their natural state, when subjected to sunlight, water and microbial activity, from 60-100% in 28 days.

These terms are important for anyone formulating with eco-friendliness in mind. For decades, the workhorse surfactant family for detergents, degreasers and hard surface cleaners has been nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). These have been under great scrutiny for some time because they are in fact not readily biodegradable and tend to persist in wildlife and humans. The jury is still out on the dangers of this presence, but evidence suggests that NPEs are not completely harmless.

The good news for animals, fish and people is that FBC Chemical offers several alternatives to NPEs and we are happy to share our formulating expertise with you.  Please contact your sales representative to discuss these options.

Further reading.

Finally…a coconut amide without Prop 65 warnings or other baggage

FBC Chemical is happy to announce that we are currently stocking Brosurf DIPA, a coconut amide that can be substituted in place of the traditional 1:1 amide workhorse. Brosurf DIPA offers similar foaming and viscosity characteristics while offering a better health and safety profile. And unlike cocamide DEA, Brosurf DIPA is California-friendly and will not trigger a Proposition 65 warning, so it should be especially attractive to manufacturers that sell products into California and want to avoid a warning label. 
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