Glycerol Formula – Physical Properties, Chemical Properties

Glycerol formula is C3H8O3. It is also known as glycerin, a basic polyol compound. Glycerol is a colorless, odorless, viscous liquid that is non-toxic and sweet to taste.

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Glycerol formula, or glycerine, is a versatile compound that serves various purposes in different industries. It is classified as a polyol, containing multiple groups of hydroxyls in its chemical structure. With three hydroxyl groups bound to carbon atoms, it consists of 3 Carbon atoms, 3 Oxygen atoms, and 8 Hydrogen atoms. Its formula is represented through both structural and extended forms. In certain lipids, the glycerol backbone is present, which is known as triglycerides.

Not only does glycerol have applications in dermatological treatments, but it also has several benefits in the food industry where it is commonly used as a preservative and sweetener. Its properties include being viscous, colourless, non-toxic, and categorized as a simple triol compound.

One of the many roles of glycerol is acting as an osmolyte to regulate osmotic pressure. It also serves as a solvent and detergent in human metabolism. Additionally, it can be found as a metabolite in organisms such as saccharomyces cerevisiae, escherichia coli, mice, algae, and is even considered a geroprotector. Chemically speaking, glycerol falls under the category of trigols and alditols.

What is Glycerol?

Glycerin, also known as glycerol, is a versatile compound found in both plants and animals. It is commonly used in various dermatological treatments due to its natural properties. However, in recent times, it has also gained attention as a biofuel. As a simple polyol compound, it serves as the backbone of lipids called glycerides. Additionally, because of its antiviral and antimicrobial properties, glycerol is widely used in FDA approved wound and burn treatments by industries.

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Glycerol’s Occurrence

Plants such as soybean, palms and animals contain glycerol as a triglyceride. However, industrial methods can also produce glycerol from saponification or hydrolysis of triglycerides.

Glycerol Structural Formula 

The trihydroxy sugar alcohol glycerol, with three carbon atoms and three hydroxyl groups, is a trihydroxy sugar alcohol. Because of its various hydroxyl groups and carbon atoms, it is known as 1, 2, 3-Propanetriol by the IUPAC. The hydroxyl groups (-OH) bound to carbon atoms make glycerol soluble in water. As a result of these hydroxyl groups, glycerol retains or absorbs water quickly due to its hygroscopic nature.

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The Structure of Glycerol Formula

The most basic structure of glycerol is shown above, displaying a chain of three carbon atoms bonded to hydroxyl groups as the main component. Alternatively, as illustrated below, the Fischer projection can be utilized, centered on the second carbon atom. This depiction allows for a more precise representation of bond angles without explicitly mentioning the hydrogen atoms. The glycerol molecule consists of three carbon chains, each with an attached hydroxyl group (OH). With an sp3 configuration for its carbon atoms, the molecule is capable of free rotation. Notably, glycerol is both soluble in water and possesses hygroscopic properties. Due to its fundamental role in all lipids known as triglycerides, this compound holds great significance. Glycerol finds application in industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to food and cosmetics (such as soaps).

Glycerol’s Preparation

The preparation of glycerol involves extracting it from both animal and plant tissues in industries and laboratories. Its production has seen a recent increase due to its potential use as a biofuel, making it an alternative to fossil fuels. Various organic synthetic methods are also used to produce glycerol. For instance, acrolein can be oxidized from propene, followed by reduction to allyl alcohol. In the final step, hydrogen peroxide is introduced, resulting in epoxidation and the production of glycidol. Finally, glycidol is hydrolyzed to yield glycerol.

Physical Properties of Glycerol 

  • It is a clear, colorless, and very viscous liquid, similar to a syrup. 
  • In addition, its melting point is −20oC and the sublimation point is −290oC. 
  • Its density is 1.250 g/mL−1 and it is highly hygroscopic. 
  • Glycerol is soluble in water and is combustible but does not ignite easily.

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Chemical Properties of Glycerol

  • Having three hydroxyl groups makes it a triol. 
  • Due to the presence of these groups, it is highly soluble in water and other polar protic solvents since it can form hydrogen bonds. 
  • As well, the hydroxyl group contributes to its hygroscopic characteristics. 
  • Moreover, glycerol present in lipid tissues plays a significant role in the biosynthesis of triglycerides, as it is mediated by various enzymes such as glycerol kinase.

Uses of Glycerol

  • This substance has various uses in different fields. 
  • serves as an emollient and hydrant in pharmaceutical and personal care products, such as glycerin soaps and laxatives. 
  • Laboratories working with molecular biology also frequently utilize it to prepare polyacrylamide electrophoresis gels for proteins.
  • Additionally, it functions as a preservation cryo-agent for storing biosamples. 
  • In the food industry, it serves a dual purpose as both a sweetener and preservative, often used as a substitute for sugar due to its lower calorie content. 
  • Furthermore, it has applications as an anti-freeze for cars and in the production of explosive components like trinitroglycerin.

Glycerol Health and Safety Hazards

As well as causing serious eye damage, it is extremely flammable and can explode if heated. Additionally, it is incompatible with potassium permanganate, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, nitrobenzene, and hydrogen peroxide.

Glycerol Formula FAQs

What is the chemical formula of glycerol?

The chemical formula of glycerol is C3H8O3.

What is glycerol commonly used for?

Glycerol is used in various applications, including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food products, and as a component in antifreeze and solvents.

Is glycerol the same as glycerin?

Yes, glycerol and glycerin are often used interchangeably; they refer to the same chemical compound.

Is glycerol safe for consumption?

Yes, the FDA generally recognizes glycerol as safe (GRAS) and is commonly used in food and pharmaceutical products.

What role does glycerol play in skincare products?

Glycerol is a humectant, which means it helps retain moisture. In skincare, it's used to hydrate and moisturize the skin, making it a common ingredient in lotions and creams.

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