Assistant Professor Sarah Perry of the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department and ChE Department Head John Klier are the co-principal-investigators on a research project in collaboration with Camco Manufacturing of Leominster to identify environmentally benign windshield-washer fluids as viable alternatives to those containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are a significant source of environmental pollution and contribute to ground-level ozone and smog.
One significant VOC is methanol. In 2013, for example, Massachusetts manufacturers used more than 57 million pounds of methanol, a toxic alcohol linked to reproduction and other health concerns, which is found in products such as windshield-washer fluid and industrial solvents.
Perry and Klier’s project, entitled “Advanced Formulations for Reduced-VOC Windshield-Washer Fluid,” is being funded by a $26,000 grant from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at UMass Lowell. TURI helps Massachusetts companies and communities find innovative ways to reduce toxic chemical use at their sources and provides resources and tools to help make the Commonwealth a safer place to live and work.
According to an article written by Karen Angelo of UMass Lowell, Camco Manufacturing is “leading the charge” when it comes to finding a safer alternative for methanol and other VOCs used in the windshield-washing fluid it manufactures. The company is partnering with the two ChE researchers from UMass Amherst to conduct research on various alternative materials and methods.
“This partnership with Camco represents an opportunity to help improve the sustainability and environmental footprint of the industry,” says Perry.
It’s not an easy problem to solve. Any replacement formula for windshield-washer fluid in Massachusetts must have a freezing point below -29°C, use inexpensive materials, maintain cleaning performance, remain stable during storage, and be compatible with automobile surfaces. The project of Perry and Klier will couple high-throughput screening, advanced materials, and informed product design to identify alternative, environmentally friendly windshield-washer fluid formulations.
The first goal of their research will be to evaluate the ability of alternative formulation chemistries to reduce the freezing point of an aqueous solution. Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) will be used to assess the anti-freezing capacity of individual chemicals in solution as a function of concentration. Materials of interest include methanol, ethanol, potassium succinate, propylene glycol phenyl ethers, and related microemulsions.
The second goal will be to utilize the results from the first goal, in addition to all the required cost constraints and the solubility information from Hansen Solubility Parameters in Practice software, to inform a screening analysis of possible alternative formulas.
As Perry and Klier explain, “We will experimentally test candidate formulations for phase separation and stability in the presence of road salt, as well as any adverse effects on the optical clarity of a glass substrate. The temperature performance of the top dozen formulations will be evaluated using DSC to test for any unanticipated multi-component interactions. Finally, these formulations will be evaluated in the lab for their ability to clean different soiling factors present on an auto-glass surface.”
Their third goal will be to move forward with the top five windshield-washer formulations in collaboration with Camco Manufacturing to validate and grade their performance through company-specific, proprietary, evaluation procedures.
“The ultimate objective is to transfer the top performing candidate to a scalable manufacturing process for further development,” say Perry and Klier.
States with a mild climate such as California and Texas strongly regulate the permissible level of VOCs in windshield washer fluid, however states with cold winters, including Massachusetts, have been forced to allow VOC levels up to 35 percent by weight or volume in order to maintain freezing protection down to -29°C. The regions that use the 35 percent VOC limit for windshield-washer fluid make up 80 percent of the total U.S. market. Thus, developing an alternate formulation for a solvent with a freezing point below -29°C would have a significant impact on pollution in Massachusetts and across the United states.
“Finding a safer alternative will be more complicated than simply changing out one material for another,” says Perry. “Industries have already worked to optimize the performance while minimizing the environmental impact of their current formulations. We anticipate that more novel approaches like micro-emulsions have the potential to address hazard concerns while enhancing performance. However, we have a significant amount of work to do.” (February 2017)