Propionic acid is usually the second most abundant SCFA produced during fermentation. Propionic acid is absorbed into the portal vein but is removed primarily by the liver. Unlike other SCFAs, it was previously thought to inhibit cholesterol synthesis in the liver. However, although this effect has been well established under experimental conditions, it is now believed that sufficient propionic acid is not formed in the colon and is absorbed into the portal vein to produce this effect. However, it is worth noting that those gums associated with the cholesterol-lowering effect are often those that promote the production of propionic acid. Silica gel is an amorphous and porous form of silicon dioxide (silica), consisting of an irregular tridimensional framework of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms with nanometer-scale voids and pores. The voids may contain water or some other liquids, or may be filled by gas or vacuum. In the latter case, the material is properly called silica xerogel.
Silica xerogel is usually commercialized as coarse granules or beads, a few millimeters in diameter. Some grains may contain small amounts of some substance that changes color when they have absorbed some water. Small paper envelopes containing silica xerogel pellets, usually with a "do not eat" warning, are often included in dry food packages to absorb any humidity that might cause spoilage of the food.
An aqueous solution of sodium silicate is acidified to produce a gelatinous precipitate that is washed, then dehydrated to produce colorless silica gel. When a visible indication of the moisture content of the silica gel is required, ammonium tetrachlorocobaltate(II) (NH4)2CoCl4 or cobalt chloride CoCl2 is added. This will cause the gel to be blue when dry and pink when hydrated. An alternative indicator is methyl violet which is orange when dry and green when hydrated.
In many items, moisture encourages the growth of mold and spoilage. Condensation may also damage other items like electronics and may speed the decomposition of chemicals, such as those in vitamin pills. Through the inclusion of silica gel packets, these items can be preserved longer.
Silica gel may also be used to keep the relative humidity (RH) inside a high frequency radio or satellite transmission system waveguide as low as possible (see also Humidity buffering). Excessive moisture buildup within a waveguide can cause arcing inside the waveguide itself, damaging the power amplifier feeding it. Also, the beads of water that form and condense inside the waveguide change the characteristic impedance and frequency, degrading the signal. It is common for a small compressed air system (similar to a small home aquarium pump) to be employed to circulate the air inside the waveguide over a jar of silica gel.
Silica gel is also used to dry the air in industrial compressed air systems. Air from the compressor discharge flows through a bed of silica gel beads. The silica gel adsorbs moisture from the air, preventing damage at the point of use of the compressed air due to condensation or moisture. The same system is used to dry the compressed air on railway locomotives, where condensation and ice in the brake air pipes can lead to brake failure.
Silica gel is sometimes used as a preservation tool to control relative humidity in museum and library exhibitions and storage.
In chemistry, silica gel is used in chromatography as a stationary phase. In column chromatography, the stationary phase is most often composed of silica gel particles of 40–63 μm. Different particle sizes are used for different kinds of column chromatography as the particle size is related to surface area. The differences in particle size dictate if the silica gel should be used for flash or gravity chromatography. In this application, due to silica gel's polarity, non-polar components tend to elute before more polar ones, hence the name normal phase chromatography.
Silica gel, also referred to as silica aerogel or hydrated silica, is listed by the FDA in the United States as generally recognized as safe (GRAS), meaning it can be added to food products without needing approval. Silica is allowed to be added to food in the US at up to 2% as permitted under 21 CFR 172.480. In the EU it can be in up to 5% concentrations.
Listed uses include: anticaking agent, defoaming agent, stabilizer, adsorbent, carrier, conditioning agent, chillproofing agent, filter aid, emulsifying agent, viscosity control agent, and anti-settling agent.