Waxes are biosynthesized by many plants and animals. Those of animal origin typically consist of wax esters derived from a variety of carboxylic acids and fatty alcohols. Those of plant origin also contain characteristic mixtures of unesterified hydrocarbons. The composition depends not only on species, but also on geographic location of the organism. Because they are mixtures, naturally produced waxes are softer and melt at lower temperatures than the pure components.
Although many natural waxes contain esters, paraffin waxes are hydrocarbons, mixtures of alkanes usually in a homologous series of chain lengths. These materials represent a significant fraction of petroleum. They are refined by vacuum distillation. Paraffin waxes are mixtures of saturated n- and isoalkanes, naphthenes, and alkyl- and naphthene-substituted aromatic compounds. The degree of branching has an important influence on the properties. Millions of tons of paraffin waxes are produced annually. They are used in foods (such as chewing gum and cheese wrapping), in candles and cosmetics, as non-stick and waterproofing coatings and in polishes.
Montan wax is a fossilized wax extracted from coal and lignite. It is very hard, reflecting the high concentration of saturated fatty acids and alcohols, not esters that characterize softer waxes. Although dark brown and smelly, they can be purified and bleached to give commercially useful products.
Polyethylene and related derivatives
Some waxes are obtained by cracking polyethylene at 400 °C. The products have the formula (CH2)nH2, where n ranges between about 50 and 100. As of 1995, about 200 million kilograms/y were consumed.
Waxes are mainly consumed industrially as components of complex formulations, often for coatings. The main use of polyethylene and polypropylene waxes is in the formulation of colourants for plastics. Waxes confer matting effects and wear resistance to paints. Polyethylene waxes are incorporated into inks in the form of dispersions to decrease friction. They are employed as release agents. They are also used as slip agents, e.g. in furniture, and corrosion resistance.
Waxes and hard fats such as tallow are used to make candles, used for lighting and decoration.
Waxes are used as finishes and coatings for wood products. Some waxes are considered food-safe and are used to coat wooden cutting boards and other items that come into contact with food.
Beeswax is frequently used as a lubricant on drawer slides where wood to wood contact occurs.
^ EA Baker (1982) Chemistry and morphology of plant epicuticular waxes. In The Plant Cuticle. Ed. DF Cutler, KL Alvin, CE Price. Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-199920-3
Wilhelm Riemenschneider1 and Hermann M. Bolt "Esters, Organic" Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, 2005, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim. doi:10.1002/14356007.a09_565.pub2
^ Uwe Wolfmeier, Hans Schmidt, Franz-Leo Heinrichs, Georg Michalczyk, Wolfgang Payer, Wolfram Dietsche, Klaus Boehlke, Gerd Hohner, Josef Wildgruber "Waxes" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2002. doi:10.1002/14356007.a28_103.
The rational arts of living: Ruth and Clarence Kennedy Conference in the Renaissance, 1982, page 187, Studies in History, No 50, Alistair Cameron Crombie, Nancy G. Siraisi, Dept. of History of Smith College, 1987.
Handbook To Life In The Medieval World, Volume 2, page 202, Handbook to Life, Facts on File Library of World History, Madeline Pelner Cosman, Linda Gale Jones, Infobase Publishing, 2008. ISBN 9780816048878
www.microcrystallinewax.net, resource for microcrystalline wax research