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Toluene, also known as methylbenzene or phenylmethane, is a clear, water-insoluble liquid with the typical smell of paint thinners, redolent of the sweet smell of the related compound benzene. It is an aromatic hydrocarbon that is widely used as an industrial feedstock and as a solvent.
Toluene is a common solvent, able to dissolve: paints, paint thinners, silicone sealants, many chemical reactants, rubber, printing ink, adhesives (glues), lacquers, leather tanners, and disinfectants. It can also be used as a fullerene indicator, and is a raw material for toluene diisocyanate (used in the manufacture of polyurethane foam). It is also used as an adhesive for fine polystyrene kits (by dissolving and then fusing surfaces) as it can be applied very precisely by brush and contains none of the bulk of an adhesive.
Industrial uses of toluene include dealkylation to benzene, and the disproportionation to a mixture of benzene and xylene in the BTX process. When oxidized it yields benzaldehyde and benzoic acid, two important intermediates in chemistry. It is also used as a carbon source for making Multi-Wall Carbon Nanotubes.
Toluene can be used to break open red blood cells in order to extract hemoglobin in biochemistry experiments.
Toluene can be used as an octane booster in gasoline fuels used in internal combustion engines. Toluene at 86% by volume fueled all the turbo Formula 1 teams in the 1980s.
Toluene has also been used as a coolant for its good heat transfer capabilities in sodium cold traps used in nuclear reactor system loops