Glycerin Uses, Sources and How it’s Made

Refined glycerin 99.7% is used in a wide range of applications over several industries.  In the personal care industry, glycerin is used as an emollient, a moisturizer, and as a humectant just to name a few.  The pharmaceutical industry uses glycerin as an excipient for it’s lubricity, sweetening, and thickening properties.  In food we see glycerin valued for its flavor enhancing ability, as a humectant, and as a preservative.

Its use in a wide variety of applications is driven by its varied performance characteristics:

  • 100% naturally derived
  • Functions as a humectant, lubricant, solvent, viscosity modifier, emulsifier, and excipient
  • A sweet, simple polyol which is viscous and non-toxic
  • Disrupts ice formation and is good for low temperatures
  • Three hydroxyl groups provide hygroscopicity (attracts water)

Here's a snapshot of the industries and uses that Univar services with its broad glycerin portfolio:

Glycerin uses - industries and applications


Glycerin is a globally produced product with concentrations in Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, and the United States.  One important fact to keep in mind is that even though glycerin is produced globally and used in thousands of different applications, it is only produced as a byproduct of other manufacturing processes.  In other words, glycerin is not produced intentionally.

There are two primary manufacturing processes that produce glycerin as a byproduct.  The first, and smaller of the two, is the chemical manufacturing process that uses base oils such as palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil to produce fatty acids and fatty alcohols.  The second, and by far the larger, is bio-diesel production which uses these same oils as well as oils such as soy, rapeseed, and olive to produce methyl esters, which in turn can be blended into diesel fuel to produce a bio-diesel product.

The source of much of the global supply of glycerin comes from the biodiesel industry. Read more.

Univar offers 12 grades or types of glycerin to cover a variety of applications. The most popular types are:

With more than 120 locations that can accommodate bulk and offer bulk orders, custom formulations, blending and packaging capabilities, Univar is the premier glycerin distributor. Our facilities include state-of-the-art white rooms with stringent quality programs. 

We can supply glycerin in a variety of quanities and methods, including:

  • Bulk railcar
  • Bulk tank truck
  • Totes (IBC)
  • Drums
  • Pails
  • Cases

With approximately 900 sales professionals covering the United States and a dedicated oleochemicals team with 120+ years of experience standing behind them, Univar Solutions is well-positioned to assist our clients in the selection of the right glycerin products for their applications.

Learn more about Univar's glycerin supply capabilities.

Contact Univar Solutions for all your oleochemical needs.