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Carbonate esters are any class of organic compounds that have -O-C(=O)-O- functional groups. In general, esters of carbonic acid are referred to as carbonate esters. Cyclic carbonate esters can be considered as protected forms of 1,2-diols. Owing to a wide liquid temperature range, many of them find application as solvents. For instance, propylene carbonate has a melting point of -55°C while its boiling point is 240°C. They are biodegradable and figure low on ecotoxicity and are often considered green solvents. Being highly polar in nature, they can dissolve lithium salts and hence, are used as solvents in lithium batteries.
Carbonate esters are employed in the synthesis of polycarbonates which are extensively used in eyeglass lenses, compact discs, and bulletproof glass. Synthesis of a variety of carbonates for their use in the preparation of polycarbonates has generated considerable interest among scientists. Chemical applications include their role as mild alkylating agents (dimethyl carbonate). Unlike other methylating agents, they have lower toxicity and are biodegradable. Alkylene carbonates are known to alkylate active hydrogen containing aromatics. With amines, they are used in the synthesis of urethanes, oxazolidinones and imidazolidinones. Use of carbonates as a green surfactant is an area of active research.