What molecule am I?
Propylene oxide (PO), formally 2-methyloxirane, is low-boiling liquid that is useful for making many commercial materials. It was known as long ago as 1866, when Eduard Linnemann at the University of Lemberg (Germany) described the conversion of PO to acetone.
The initial method for producing PO was the chlorination of propylene in water to give a mixture of chlorohydrins, followed by dehydrochlorinaton with potassium hydroxide. A process developed subsequently was the direct oxidation of propylene with an organic hydroperoxide. Both processes are in use today.
About two-thirds of worldwide PO production (≈13 million t/year) is used to make polyether polyols, which play an important role in the manufacture of the versatile polyurethane foam. Another ≈20% is hydrolyzed to propylene glycol. As an industrial epoxide, PO is second in importance only to ethylene oxide. PO is a chiral molecule, but almost all of it is produced as the racemic mixture.
As shown in the hazard information table, exposure to PO can cause a wide range of health and environmental problems, some severe. It must be handled with extreme care.
Learn more about this molecule from CAS, the most authoritative and comprehensive source for chemical information.