IUPAC-Name for Glycerine

Propane-1,2,3-triol is the IUPAC name for glycerine, the simplest and, at the same time, most important trihydric alcohol. This substance is very common in nature. 

It is esterified in animal and vegetable fats and in fatty oils with corresponding fatty acids and can be produced as an intermediate product during alcoholic fermentation. The CAS number for this substance is 56-81-5.

Molecule of Propane-1,2,3-triol
Graphic: Adobestock/ibreakstock

What Means Propane-1,2,3-triol?

The name propane-1,2,3-triol corresponds with the systematic IUPAC nomenclature. The IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) was founded in 1919 by universities and chemists from industry with the objective of enabling and improving communication and thus also the cooperation.among chemists worldwide. In order to do so, the IUPAC tries to characterize chemical structures with a distinctive name.

The first part of the name indicates that the compound is based on propane. The digits 1, 2 and 3 mean that a hydroxyl group is bonded to the first, second and third carbon atoms. As altogether there are three hydroxyl groups, the corresponding Greek syllable “tri” is added. This is followed by the customary ending “ol” for alcohol.

Properties of Propane-1,2,3-triol

Glycerine is a colorless, odorless, and viscous liquid that has a hydroscopic effect and a sweet taste. Its sweeting power is 60 per cent of that of cane sugar. If the substance is cooled for a longer period to below 0 °C, it forms transparent rhombic crystals. Its melting point is 17.9 °C. At a temperature of 290 °C, it changes to a gaseous state.

Use of Propane-1,2,3-triol

Propane-1,2,3-triol is used on a large scale in the production of plastics, for example for manufacturing polyurethane foams. It also serves as a humectant in creams and ointments. It is contained in brake fluid and antifreeze agents in vehicles.

It is used as a hygroscopic additive for copying inks, print ribbons, stamping and printing inks, and as an emollient for films.

In small doses, glycerine is also an important drug for treating heart problems. In its pure form, glycerine is also used in medicines, for instance in the form of suppositories as a laxative, in tablet or infusion form for the treatment of brain edema, or as a pharmaceutical excipient, i.e. a solubilizer and humectant.