What is Methyl Ethyl Ketone?

Methyl ethyl ketone is a clear, volatile liquid with the formula C4H8O that is soluble in water and has a mild, acetone odour. It occurs naturally as it is biosynthesized by trees and is also found in small amounts in some fruits and vegetables as well as in chicken, beans, honey and a wide variety of cheeses. 
Methyl ethyl ketone is also known as MEK, butanone, 2-butanone, butan-2-one, oxobutane, or methyl acetone.

Methyl Ethyl Ketone

How is Methyl Ethyl Ketone produced?

The main commercial production route for methyl ethyl ketone products is through the dehydrogenation of secondary butanol although newer technology involves the direct oxidation of n-butene in solution, using palladium and cupric chlorides as catalysts.

The Chinese market is the main driver for the demand of MEK and is also where several new productions plants have been opened in the last 5 years.  World production now stands at approximately 320,000 to 350,000 tonnes.

How is it Stored and Distributed?

Methyl ethyl ketone is packed in drums.  It should be stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area that is free form the risk of ignition as it is highly flammable.  For transportation purposes, methyl ethyl ketone is classified as packing group II and hazard class 3 and has a flashpoint of -9° C (closed cup) and a specific gravity of 0.81.  It is also an irritant.

What is Methyl Ethyl Ketone Used For?

Over 50 % of the demand for Methyl ethyl ketone products stems from the paints and coatings industry as a low viscosity solution can be obtained without them affecting the film properties of the product.  These lacquers are used in the automotive, electrical goods, and furniture industries. It’s so effective as a surface coating solvent that it has become almost vital to the development of high solids coatings that reduce external emissions.

MEK is also used in the manufacture of plastics and textiles, the manufacture of printing inks, adhesives, pesticides and also in rubber-based industrial cements.  It is also used in the chemical industry as it is a precursor to methyl ethyl ketone peroxide which is itself used as a catalyst to initiate the polymerisation of polyester resins used in fibre-glass reinforced products.

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