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Understanding the Chemistry of Antifoams and Defoamers

Both antifoams and defoamers are used for foam control. Given their similarities in function, they often have similar chemistries. The main difference between them is the timing of application. In order to prevent it, antifoams are designed to be applied before the formation of foam, while defoamers are designed to be applied after foam formation in order to destroy it. Below, we provide a closer look at antifoam and defoamer chemistry.

The Chemistry of Antifoams

Antifoams are typically inert chemicals. They consist of a liquid component (e.g., nonionic surfactant, mineral oil, and/or silicone) and a hydrophobic solid (e.g., wax, fatty acid/alcohol, and/or hydrophobic silica). They must be sufficiently incompatible such that they are insoluble with the medium. Otherwise, they will not mitigate foam as effectively. However, they must also be sufficiently compatible such that they do not cause deposition problems. 

There are many types of antifoams available, and they are often lumped into two broad categories:

  • Silicone Antifoams. Silicone antifoams are normally composed of hydrophobized silica that is finely dispersed within a silicone fluid. The resulting compound is then stabilized into a water-based or oil-based emulsion. These antifoams are highly effective due to their general chemical inertness, potency even in low concentrations, and ability to spread over a foam film. If needed, they can be combined with other hydrophobic solids and liquids to improve their defoaming properties.
  • Non-Silicone Antifoams. Non-silicone antifoams generally contain surfactants, which enhance their dispersal capabilities and effectiveness in foaming water. They can be water-based, oil-based, or surfactant-based. These antifoams can be used for a wide range of industries. Compared to silicone antifoams, they are sometimes more readily biodegradable and less prone to causing certain problems such as discoloration, spotting, and negative membrane effects.

The Chemistry of Defoamers

Defoamers share many of the same chemical characteristics as antifoams. For example, they are typically made of a liquid component and a hydrophobic solid, although some are strictly liquid. Additionally, they are formulated for a balance between solubility and insolubility with the medium that ensures effective foam control performance. 

These foam control products come in many variations, of which one type is oil-based defoamers. Oil-based defoamers are typically of the “non-silicone” variety, but their composition can be highly variable and include chemical species ranging from hydrophobic solids to esters to silicones. They offer high efficacy at lower dosages, making them a preferred choice for foam knockdown in many applications. 

How Do I Select the Most Effective Antifoam/Defoamer for My Application?

The type of foam generated and the timing of its production vary from process to process. That’s why it is important to choose a foam control solution with a chemistry that is appropriate for your specific application. It is advisable to test a primary and a secondary foam control product. If you want more information on how to select an effective foam control solution or if you would like samples to evaluate, Applied Material Solutions (AMS) is here to help. We have extensive experience producing a broad selection of foam control compounds for use in a wide range of industries and applications. One of the eBooks we’ve put together, “Must-Ask Questions When Choosing a Foam Control Agent,” has many of the answers to any questions you may have about the selection process. Alternatively, you can contact us today.

An Introduction to Silicone Emulsions

What Are Silicone Emulsions?

Silicone emulsions are non-toxic and heat-stable compounds that are produced by dispersing silicone oil in a liquid, typically water. This process is accomplished with the introduction of a surfactant. The resulting products exhibit a number of physical characteristics that make them highly beneficial for certain applications. For example, they can be antistatic, non-stick, and/or water-repellant. The properties of a silicone emulsion depend on its formulation; it can come in various pH levels, active levels, and more, all of which influence how it will perform within an application. 

Advantages of Silicone Emulsions

There are many advantages to using silicone emulsions over other compound solutions. Below, we highlight some of the key benefits. 

  • They are easy to use and clean. These compounds are available in numerous viscosities and concentrations, enabling them to be used in a variety of applications. Additionally, if needed, they can be diluted with water or cleaned from surfaces with soap and water.
  • They are environmentally friendly. These compounds have less of a negative impact on the environment than solvent-based systems, and tend to be benign and unreactive. Additionally, if it can be recovered, the silicone material can be recycled. 
  • They are cost-effective. These compounds can protect objects from abrasion, friction, molding and water, enabling them to extend the life of devices and systems. For this reason, they are often used by manufacturing companies to lower repair or replacement costs.
  • They are food-safe. These compounds normally have water as their primary volatile compound, which makes them ideal for use in or on products intended for contact with food and beverages. They are formulated to minimize the risk of imparting unwanted flavors or impacting quality. 
  • They are able to improve equipment efficiency. These compounds can be used on inline equipment, often eliminating the need for offline coating. Additionally, they can improve the efficiency of photovoltaic devices (e.g., solar panels). 

Applications of Silicone Emulsions

Due to their many beneficial properties, silicone emulsions find use in a variety of industrial and commercial applications. For example:

  • In plastic and rubber materials, they are used as release agents and lubricants. 
  • In food trays and serving dishes, they are used as release agents and antistats. 
  • In car polishes and household cleaners, they are used to improve gloss, and impart protective properties and spreadability.
  • In textile finishing operations, they are used to enhance the feed, water repellency, and anti-wrinkling properties of products. 
  • In clay, perlite, vermiculite, and other building materials, they are used to increase water repellency and protect against dampness.
  • In printing and papermaking operations, they are used as lubricants and antistatic agents.
  • In cosmetics and body care products, they are used to improve untangling properties. 

Learn More About Silicone Emulsions From AMS

Want additional information on silicone emulsions? Ask the experts at Applied Material Solutions! We’ve manufactured chemical compound solutions for various processing challenges, including silicone emulsion defoamers and antifoams, for over 45 years. Contact us today to learn more.

Industry Spotlight: Wet & Dry Corn Milling for Fuel Ethanol Production

Foam can cause problems in many industrial processes. That’s why industry professionals utilize antifoams and defoamers to mitigate foam production and accumulation. In the renewable fuel sector, these products are commonly utilized in ethanol production operations since one of the ways the product is created is the corn milling process, which is susceptible to foam-related issues. 

The Importance of Antifoams and Defoamers for Fuel Ethanol Production by Mill Type

Foam control solutions play a critical role in many fuel ethanol production operations. The corn milling process—i.e., the process used to make fuel ethanol—can be divided into two primary methods: wet milling and dry milling. Both can experience issues with foam.

  • During wet milling operations, the corn is soaked in a slurry, ground, and separated. The separation process can lead to the generation of foam, which can impact efficiency and product yield. Foam can also hinder the fermentation stage. The formation of bubbles during fermentation takes up volume in the vessel used for the ethanol, and could even cause displacement and product loss. During the distillation phase, any remaining foam bubbles can negatively affect process efficiency. For these reasons, antifoams and defoamers are regularly used for wet milling operations.Corn Oil Demulsifiers
  • During dry milling operations, foam control products are typically utilized during clean-in-place (CIP) processes. Other key uses include the yeast propagation phase and during water treatment. 

Considerations for Choosing the Right Antifoam or Defoamer

There are many antifoams and defoamers available for addressing foam and entrained air within the fuel ethanol industry. While this broad selection makes it possible for a plant owner or manager to choose a solution tailored to their unique needs, it can also make it difficult to find the right product. Below, we highlight some of the questions you should ask yourself when evaluating your foam control options to ensure the one you select meets your requirements and restrictions.

  • What regulatory specifications/standards—if any—should the product meet? (e.g., food-grade/feed-grade/kosher)
  • Will this product compromise the process? (e.g., the viability of yeast during the fermentation process)
  • Can this product cause deposit issues?
  • Is this product cost-effective? 

Antifoams and Defoamers From Applied Material Solutions

Unwanted foam can cause a variety of problems during fuel ethanol production operations. If you’re experiencing foam-related issues in your wet or dry corn milling processes, Applied Material Solutions is here to help. We manufacture a range of antifoams and defoamers for the renewable fuel industry. We can customize your product solution to meet the specific needs of your plant. 

By utilizing our foam control additives, you can benefit from: 

  • Industry-proven chemistries that do not harm yeast cell viability
  • Reduced chemical costs
  • Increased profits
  • Improved ethanol yields
  • Enhanced on-time delivery, consistency and reliability

For additional information about our foam control products or assistance identifying the right antifoam or defoamer for your wet/dry milling process, contact us today.

Antifoams for Ethanol cover photo

Antifoams for Ethanol Production

Corn Oil Separation Aids cover photo

Corn Oil Separation Aids




Industry Spotlight: Fermentation

Industrial fermentation can generate significant quantities of foam due to the generation of carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Many industries turn to antifoam and defoaming products to prevent or combat unwanted foam which may impede production. 

At Applied Material Solutions (AMS), we manufacture safe and effective defoamers for fermentation, including food-grade and kosher products. Keep reading to learn more about how fermentation processes use antifoams and defoamers, as well as the different types of defoaming products available.

Fermentation Antifoam and Defoamers by Industry beer

Numerous industries, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, commercial yeast, and alcoholic beverage production, rely on foam control solutions during their fermentation processes. At AMS, we work closely with multiple industries, some examples of which include:

Food Processing and Agribusiness 

The food industry requires antifoam and defoaming tools to control foam in a myriad of fermentation processes. Popular examples include amino acid production, enzymes, ethanol, and yeast. These products can help control foam for a more consistent product from batch to batch. They reduce or entirely eliminate the foam that would otherwise slow production or generate waste. 

Foam accumulates when creating or agitating organic compounds during fermentation. Defoamers control foam formation caused by metabolic and chemical reactions, and when compounds are being mixed or pressurized. 

Fuel Ethanol

Wet milling operations mix solids into a liquid through attrition, crushing, shearing, and other mechanical forces. These operations can churn these organic compounds once a slurry is made and generate foam. 

Wet milling is used to process grain during ethanol production. The grain is introduced to a slurry and the resulting mixture is then steeped, ground, and separated. Foam hinders the ability to separate the grain for processing. It can also interfere with distillation and fermentation further along in the process. By incorporating antifoams into the wet milling operations, ethanol producers can mitigate this variable and increase processing speeds.

Defoamers allow manufacturers to more easily split grains into proteins for animal feed, as well as starches that can be fermented into ethanol products. While dry-milling makes up the majority of ethanol production in the United States, defoamers make wet milling a viable alternative. Suppliers can tailor antifoams to the process, plants and/or grains involved. Adding antifoam agents to ethanol production allows for:

  • Fewer total chemical demands and costs
  • A consistent product across batches
  • Better overall production performance

At Applied Material Solutions, our team carefully designs defoamers and antifoams for different plant needs and ingredients to ensure they won’t damage cell viability. AMS also produces a wide range of food-grade antifoam and defoaming agents.

Considerations For Choosing a Fermentation Defoamer

When selecting a defoamer for your fermentation application, there are numerous factors to consider. Some of these include:

  • Regulatory considerations. When selecting a defoamer, manufacturers must often ensure that they choose a solution that is safe for animal feed and direct food contact to comply with regulations from bodies such as the FDA and USDA. Defoamers also must comply with any relevant environmental regulations from the EPA and other government agencies.  
  • Safety. The health and viability of your microorganisms is paramount, so it’s important to select a defoamer that won’t harm the specific fungi and bacteria used in your operation. Choosing a non-toxic defoamer also helps to ensure yields and profitability won’t be negatively impacted. 
  • Autoclaving tolerance. During the autoclaving process used to sterilize fermentation additives, antifoams may undergo phase separation or become destabilized. This can lead to inconsistent defoaming performance. Select a stable and efficacious antifoam that will minimize the likelihood of this happening.
  • Membrane compatibility. Using the appropriate defoamer within any separation technology is essential to avoid fouling the membrane, which can be costly and have an impact on product yield. AMS will assist you with a defoamer recommendation that is least likely to foul your membrane.

Fermentation Defoamers From Applied Material Solutions

Many industries rely on fermentation processes as part of their manufacturing process. Unwanted foam produced during fermentation can slow production rates or ruin products if left unchecked. Manufacturers can control those fermentation processes with antifoams and defoamers. For assistance in identifying the right antifoam or defoamer for your fermentation process, please contact us today.


Key Considerations for Selecting an Antifoam/Defoamer

Foam is created when gas is introduced and trapped within a solution that contains surfactants. It can consist of large bubbles at the surface of the solution (macrofoam) or small bubbles distributed throughout the solution (microfoam). In either case, it can cause issues within the products and equipment in which it is formed, such as lower product quality, inconsistent product density, and machine damage.

Antifoam and defoaming agents are key to preventing and controlling foam and avoiding the problems associated with it. Both compounds minimize or eliminate foam formation. However, they achieve this goal in different ways; antifoams are surfactants that prevent foam from forming in the first place, while defoamers are surfactants that control existing foam levels by stopping the bubbles from stabilizing.

There are two things an antifoam or defoamer must have to work: an entry coefficient greater than zero and a spreading coefficient greater than zero. These qualities allow the compound to enter the interface between the air and lamella (i.e., the bubble wall) and then enter the bubble wall in a process known as “bridging the film”. As it spreads, the bubble wall thins and, eventually, ruptures.

Beyond the above properties, an antifoam or defoamer can vary in many ways. For example, it can have a silicone or non-silicone composition, be aqueous or non-aqueous, and come in liquid or powder form. This broad selection enables industry professionals to choose a foam control product that meets their exact application requirements. However, it can make it challenging to identify which one best suits their needs. Below, we cover the key factors to keep in mind when selecting an antifoam or defoaming agent.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Antifoam/Defoamer

In aqueous environments, the right antifoam or defoamer product can minimize or eliminate issues associated with foam. Some of the questions you should answer before choosing an antifoam or defoamer for a given application include:

  • Is the antifoam/defoamer compatible with the process? Antifoams and defoamers are generally inert chemicals consisting of a liquid (e.g., silicone, mineral oils, or hydrophobic surfactants) and a hydrophobic solid (e.g., fatty acids, fatty alcohols, silica, or wax). Ultimately, the antifoam/defoamer you select should have a balance of compatibility and incompatibility. It should be compatible enough that it effectively disperses in the foaming medium. Otherwise, it may cause deposition issues. However, it should be insoluble to the point that it remains in fine droplet form within the solution.
  • Will the antifoam/defoamer cause deposit issues? The antifoam/defoamer should be sufficiently compatible within the solution so as to not create deposits.
  • Will the antifoam/defoamer negatively affect the catalyst I am using? The antifoam/defoamer should not negatively impact any catalysts used in the process.
  • Will the antifoam/defoamer plug up any membranes or filters? The antifoam/defoamer should not carry the potential for plugging/clogging filters and membranes that can compromise the product or process.
  • Is the antifoam/defoamer composition effective for my application? Antifoams and defoamer come in many varieties. The one you choose should suit your individual requirements and restrictions.
  • Will the antifoam/defoamer have any negative effects on downstream conditions? The antifoam/defoamer should not cause any adverse downstream effects.

The answers to these questions must be weighed appropriately. In some cases, you must compromise on a solution.

Contact the Antifoam and Defoamer Experts at AMS Today

If you’re looking for an experienced foam control product supplier, turn to the experts at AMS! Equipped with extensive experience providing foam control solutions for a wide range of industries and applications and a broad selection of antifoam and defoamer products, we have what it takes to help you achieve your foam control goals. For additional information on our products and services or assistance choosing a foam control product, contact us today.

Key Considerations for Selecting an Antifoam Defoamer Infographic