What is wax?
The word “wax” usually refers to a variety of organic substances that are solid at ambient temperature but become free-flowing liquids at slightly higher temperatures. The chemical composition of waxes is complex, but normal alkanes are always present in high proportion and molecular weight profiles tend to be wide. The main commercial source of wax is crude oil but not all crude oil refiners produce wax. “Mineral” wax can also be produced from lignite. Plants, animals and even insects produce materials sold in commerce as “wax.”
What are the major wax markets?
Here with some examples:
Building materials: wax is added as a water repellent in the production of wood-based manufactured composite boards such as particle board, medium density, oriented strand and other board products.
Candles: one of the oldest uses of wax, but still vital. No longer used for primary illumination, candles are the fastest growing segment of the wax market with new decorative and therapeutic uses.
Corrugated board: food-grade wax is applied to corrugated containers in order to provide strength and waterproofing for food packaging during transportation.
Coatings: wax can be used to form a coating that allows oxygen to pass but not water; generating numerous applications in such diverse areas as cosmetics, food, packaging, furniture, time release properties, etc.
Flexible packaging: Food-grade waxes and wax blends are used in laminating compounds and surface coatings to provide strength, to waterproofing, and improve appearance and moisture-vapor transmission.
Cosmetics and pharmaceuticals: fully-refined wax is non-toxic, and many products are approved for direct use in food and personal care formulations. Waxes are widely used in the cosmetic industry in products such as lipstick, mascara, moisturizing creams and sunblock.
Chewing gum: chewing gum base is a compound of elastomers, resin and food-grade wax to which other materials are added to produce chewing gum. Hard, high melt-point waxes are used in this application, including microcrystalline and candelilla waxes.
Crayons: Food grade wax provides the solid structure for a crayon and, since most crayon users are young children, its non-toxic characteristics are critical.
Fire logs: a modern convenience product, wax acts as both a binder and as fuel.
Food: Food grade wax is used to cover certain types of cheese that would dehydrate if not properly protected. It is sprayed on citrus and other fruit to protect from oxidation and enhance appearance, and in meat and bone wraps.
Hot melt adhesives: waxes are present in most hot melt adhesive formulations to control the viscosity of the adhesive and contribute to open time, flexibility and elongation.
Inks: graphical printing inks include wax in their formulation as an anti-scuff agent.
Investment casting: in the “lost wax” method of casting jewelry, and other industrial products, a wax model of the piece is made and used to create a clay mold. The wax is melted out and the clay is used to cast the final piece.
Polishes: the application of waxes to wooden floors to improve their appearance and provide protection dates back several hundred years. It serves to retard the penetration of air and moisture, thereby increasing the life of the flooring material as well as preventing abrasion by surface grit.
PVC: two different lubricants are used in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride thermoplastic: internal and external; and two different types of wax are used in the lubricants. Internal lubricants are formulated to help PVC flow in the manufacturing process by forming a solution with PVC. External lubricants are not soluble in PVC and can produce a film between the PVC and its extrusion equipment.
Tire and rubber: wax is a vital component in rubber tire formulations and is added for protection from atmospheric ozone that will “dry” unprotected rubber, causing cracking that compromises the strength of the tire. Wax creates a physical barrier between the tire surface and the atmosphere.