Borates by Function

Fundamental to Industry

The versatility of borates stems from their unique bonding and structural characteristics. In addition to being essential in living things, borates are important to many industrial applications. Borates impart a wide range of performance, cost, and environmental health and safety advantages to both products and processes. Important functional effects of borates are utilized in industrial and consumer applications which include those listed below.

Essentiality: Borates are essential to all higher plants. They are routinely applied in agriculture when soils are deficient to improve crop yields and quality. There are scientific studies indicating biological importance to animals and humans.

Biostatic: Sufficient concentrations of borates can inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi and protect against damage by wood destroying insects. For this reason, borates are widely used to improve the durability of wood and wood based construction products. They are also used in the formulation of some insecticidal products.

Buffering: Borates can serve to balance acidity and alkalinity. This property is made use of in both industrial processes and consumer products.

Glass-Forming: Borates modify the structure of glass to make it resistant to heat or chemical attack. They can also lower the melting temperature of glasses to facilitate the production of durable fiberglass, specialty glasses, and ceramic glazes. Borate glasses are important components in modern TV, computer, and mobile device display panels.

Detergency and Cleaning: Borates improve the performance of cleaning products by buffering and conditioning wash water.  They inhibit the corrosion of washing machine parts. In addition, perborates can provide a convenient source of active oxygen for non-chlorine bleaching and stain removal.

Nuclear Shielding: Boron is unique among the light elements in its ability to capture neutrons, due to the natural presence of the 10B isotope of boron (~20% natural abundance). This radiation absorbing effect is utilized in the shielding, control, and safety of nuclear reactors and in medical therapeutics. Boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT) is an experimental treatment for cancers and other diseases in which neutron capture is harnessed to perform effective microsurgery.

Spectroscopic: Borates absorb infrared light. Incorporated into building products, such as insulation fiberglass, borates improve energy efficiency by preventing heat loss through infrared transmission. This effect can also be utilized in plastics, coatings, and other materials.

Synthesis: In addition to the above mentioned physical and chemical effects, borates are used as starting materials in the manufacture of a wide range of advanced materials and specialty chemicals. These include super hard ceramics, boron halides, hydrides, and esters, to name only a few.

Cross-linking: Borates react with suitable alcohols and carbohydrates to link them together. This effect is used to produce starch adhesives and fluids used in oil recovery. Related chemistry also provides the basis for the essential biological roles of boron.

Anticorrosion: Borates passivate ferrous and other metal surfaces to reduce their susceptibility to corrosion. This property is utilized in anticorrosive coatings, lubricants, industrial water systems, and automotive coolants.

Fire Retarding: Borates are used as fire retardants for polymers and cellulosic materials, such as cotton batting, wood, and cellulose insulation. Specialized borate compounds, such as zinc borates, are used as fire retardants and smoke suppressant additives in polymers.

Metallurgical: Borates are excellent fluxes used to remove oxide impurities from metals. Boron is also added to steel and aluminum to produce especially hard and corrosion resistant alloys. Borates find many specialized metallurgical uses, including the production of super strong magnets. Borates are also used to stabilize metallurgical slags to divert them from landfills into useful applications.