The Benefits of Chemical De-Icing

As the cold weather seems to only get colder, it’s important for pilots and aircraft maintenance crews to remember one thing: a frozen plane is a plane that doesn’t fly. Aviation is based on the principles of aerodynamics; air flows over and under the wings and lifts the aircraft up. However, the airfoil is a finicky thing, the slightest change to the airfoil means that not enough lift is created, and the aircraft is no longer flying. So, when it’s below freezing and it only takes a matter of minutes for snow and ice to build up, the only thing that pilots and aircraft maintenance personnel can turn to is chemical de-icing.

Chemical de-icing is unlike any other method of de-icing an aircraft. Unlike heating or scraping the ice and snow off of the aircraft exterior, chemical de-icing is used to not only treat the problem but prevent it from recurring. Of course, aircraft have hot air vents and other systems to help prevent ice buildup along the wings, but chemical de-icing is good because it is designed to adhere to the exterior of the wings and prevent ice from building up in-flight and at high speeds, making it an ideal method to combat the freezing temperatures.

When it snows in the streets, city workers dump road salt on the streets in an effort to make the roads safer. So, the first assumption about chemical-deicers is usually that they must be salt-based— but that’s wrong. Salt, especially chloride salts like they use for roads, is too corrosive for aircraft exteriors. Instead, chemical de-icers are usually a mixture of water and glycol, either propylene glycol (CH3CHOHCH2OH) or ethylene glycol (HOCH2CH2OH). They work to lower the freezing point of a substance rather than melting it. While glycol mixtures make up as much as 70% of a chemical de-icer, other ingredients can include calcium magnesium acetate, sodium formate, sodium acetate, surfactants, polymer thickening agents, pH buffers, corrosion inhibitors, and/or flame retardant. These additives can dramatically reduce the freezing point of water, bringing it down from 0°C to -50 or -60°C, depending on the type of glycol.

Chemical de-icers are so useful in extreme cold weather that they’re also frequently used on airport runways, terminals, aircraft ground support equipment, and so on. Unfortunately, chemical de-icers are harmful for the environment; they can contaminate waterways and ecosystems near the airport via runoff. They can also kill animals because they are incredibly toxic to ingest, but they’re chemically sweet flavor makes them attractive to animals. As a result, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does require airports to monitor storm water runoff. Some airports even contain and treat storm water on-site while others have it contracted out or sent to the municipal wastewater treatment center. Other efforts to curb environmental impacts include looking into non-hazardous alternatives and better methods of recovering and recycling chemical de-icers.

At Cogent Purchasing, owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, we can help you find all the aircraft de-icers and propylene glycol you need, new or obsolete. For a quick and competitive quote, email us at or call us at +1-914-359-2001.


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