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A quick overview of phosphonates: properties, uses & examples

At Airedale Chemical we manufacture and distribute a variety of phosphonates for customers up and down the UK and across Europe.

Phosphonates are an incredibly versatile group of chemicals with uses in detergent manufacture, paints and coatings, metal polishes, flame retardants, processed foods, personal care products and pharmaceutical products.

Let’s explore the category in a little more detail.

What are phosphonates and their key uses?

Phosphonates are a family of compounds derived from phosphorus acid where the hydrogen (H) atom has been replaced with another grouping to form a carbon-to-phosphorus (C-P) bond. In a broad sense, the term phosphonate can be applied to any compound containing this bond.

This unique chemical structure can provide high solubility in water, resistance to corrosion, ability to inhibit scale, stability in harsh conditions and high compatibility with other chemicals in formulations. Phosphonates are also able to bind easily with (or ‘chelate’) metal ions.

Molecules with a carbon-phosphorus bond do occur naturally in some organisms like mushrooms, mollusks and insects, but these useful properties mean they are manufactured for industrial use. Phosphonates beneficial as part of any process that uses water, but they have specific applications in:

  • Aluminium etching
  • Cosmetics
  • Cooling water treatment
  • Detergents
  • Paper and pulping
  • Peroxide stabilisation
  • Sugar refining
  • Textile bleaching
  • Swimming pool chemicals

There are four main purposes of phosphonates: scale inhibition, sequestration, corrosion inhibition and dispersion and deflocculation.

  • Scale inhibition: The moisture of some compounds can be suppressed with threshold inhibition
  • Sequestration: Allow substances to form a stable, water soluble complex with metal ions and inhibit precipitation and the decomposition of bleach liquids.
  • Corrosion inhibition: Forming a protective barrier across metal surfaces which prevents oxygen forming corrosion.
  • Dispersion and deflocculation: The highly charged anions of our phosphonates can be absorbed onto surfaces and exert strong repulsive forces which can disperse and deflocculate particles suspended in liquid.

Examples of phosphonates and their applications

At Airedale Chemical, we recognise the differing roles that phosphonates have to play in processes and our team of in-house chemists have developed Airquest – a range of different phosphonate products, each with its own specific set of properties and applications.

Airquest ATMP (Amino Trismethylene Phosphonic Acid)

Mainly used in detergents and water treatment as a scale inhibitor, metal sequestrant and corrosion inhibitor due to its excellent calcium carbonate prevention properties. It also has good tolerance to bromine and chlorine dioxide.

It is therefore well suited to industrial cleaning uses, in bleach stabilisation and in metal treatment to prevent corrosion in ferrous materials. It is also used to de-ink recycled paper and has roles including as a sequestrant in textile dyeing. It can be used to control scale in cooling water and oilfield applications.

We supply Airquest ATMP as a 50% aqueous acid solution in quantities from 25 litre packs to bulk transfers.

Airquest C

Airquest C is a nitrilotriacetic acid replacement which reduces the effects of calcium and magnesium ions in hard water. In cases where the pH level is above 7, it is an excellent barium sulphate and calcium carbonate inhibitor.

Our product is frequently used as a sequestrant in toilet cleaning products, industrial strength cleaning solutions, laundry products and dishwasher detergents.

ts sequestrant properties also lend themselves to applications in cosmetics and textile dyeing, while it can also be used in water and oil field applications to control scale and corrosion.

It can be purchased by 25-litre packs up to bulk tanker deliveries.

Airquest HEDP60

Airquest HEDP60 is the name of our solution made of 1-hydroxyethylidene-1, 1-diphosphonic acid. It is an effective calcium inhibitor with applications in cooling systems as well as a barium sulphate inhibitor in solutions over pH7.

Its steel corrosion inhibitor properties in soft water are unaffected by chlorine or chlorine dioxide making it an ideal solution for many applications in cooling water, boiler water treatment and swimming pools. It has been used in the formulation of ‘green’ products as well as industrial and institutional cleaning products.

It can be used to stabilise hydrogen peroxide during transportation and as a sequestrant in cosmetics, textile dyes and toilet cleaners.

It is both highly soluble in water and robust in difficult conditions and is therefore commonly used in water treatment.

Airquest KAT

Finally, we supply our own formulated solution, Airquest KAT, which is potassium salt of ATMP which is used as a corrosion inhibitor in water treatment, detergents and with ferrous metals, while also being effective at inhibiting calcium scale and as a metal sequestrant in situations where bromine and chlorine dioxide are present.

It is often found in industrial and institutional cleaning formulations and laundry detergent formulations, de-inking of recycled paper and textile dyeing.

Our full range can be explored on our phosphonates page.

Phosphates and the environment

Although the environmental impact of phosphonates is the subject of further research, what we know so far suggests that with properly functioning sewage plants, the environmental risk of phosphonates is ‘low’. The vast majority of phosphonates are removed from wastewater during the sewage treatment process.

Phosphonates in the natural environment can degrade as a result of light (photodegradation), oxidation and free radical ions that occur in soil and organic matter.

Since natural phosphonates do exist in the environment, some bacteria have evolved to metabolise phosphonates as a nutrient source, with many using the phosphorus for growth. This further contributes to their natural degradation over time. This is a relatively slow process, meaning any phosphorus contained will not result in rapid growth of algae.

Looking to learn more about phosphonates? We are a leading supplier of phosphonates and Airquest in the UK. If you have any questions about which phosphonate product is right for your business, our team of experts would be happy to help

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