What Is Diethylenetriamine?

Jillian O Keeffe

The chemical diethylenetriamine is an ingredient for several industrial processes. Potential applications range from resins for paper to asphalt additives to fabric softeners. Generally, diethylenetriamine is a raw material for the finished products.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Diethylenetriamine is also known by the acronym DETA and has the chemical designation N-(2-aminoethyl-1,2-ethanediamine). The substance is one of a group of chemicals known as the ethyleneamines as it contains branches of atoms on its molecule that are called amine groups. A primary amine group contains two hydrogen atoms and one nitrogen, whereas a secondary amine group has one hydrogen and one nitrogen atom. These amine groups affect the chemical characteristics of the substance.

Chemical manufacturers sell diethylenetriamine in drums to industrial customers. High-purity DETA has no color and is clear. The chemical smells like ammonia. It boils at 405 degrees Fahrenheit (about 207 degrees Celsius) and has a flash point of 215 degrees Fahrenheit (about 102 degrees Celsius). The substance also has a highly alkaline pH of about 12 to 13.

Paper resin manufacturers use DETA as a raw material. They mix it with a dicarboxylic acid to form a polyaminoamide, which in turn is attached to a epichlorohydrin to form the finished resin. This raw material type of application is also useful for factories that produce chelating agents, fabric softeners, and industrial-strength surfactants.

The DETA chelating product works to separate and remove metal ions from solutions, where they either interfere with the process or the manufacturer wishes to purify the metal ions themselves. The products of fatty acids and DETA, which are amidoamines and imidazolines, impart a fluffy and soft texture to washed fabrics, so they are used in fabric softeners.

If a manufacturer wishes to create a hardened epoxy resin product, he or she can use DETA as a hardener for the epoxy to form a resilient resin structure. Another application for DETA is as an ingredient, along with fatty acids, to form chemicals such as amidoamines, which act as corrosion inhibitors. DETA is also present in some ion-exchange resins, which form part of water treatment plants or parts of the processing of products of industrial plants.

Some products use DETA as an additional ingredient. Examples of these products include fuel and lubrication oil, where the diethylenetriamine acts to keep the levels of particulate deposits inside engines down. As an asphalt additive, products of DETA act as adhesives to keep the asphalt and bulk minerals together.

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