BeeswaxBeeswax had an important role in mankind history. Some ancient civilizations used it as a payment means and for this reason it was very valuable. In 181 B.C., when the Roman conquered the Corsicans, they had asked them to pay their taxes and tributes in wax, which nowadays would have the price of 100.000 pound sterling. In 1300 AD France, farmers paid and annual tax consisting in 2 ponds of beeswax. Since Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church declared that only beeswax is suitable for manufacturing candles used in religious establishments.
Nowadays, beeswax has multiple usages and applications. In fact, from ancient time beeswax is considered to be the most important hive product, after the honey.
Beeswax descriptionBeeswax is a complex, organic product, which results from the metabolism of working bees. It is used to build up the hive combs. Beeswax changes its composition progressively as it is receiving more and more substances. Its color changes from various shades of yellow, than to brown and finally after a few years it becomes black. The chemical composition of beeswax is very stable, if one takes into consideration the pure product, as it is secreted by the glands of honeybees. From a chemical point of view, beeswax is extremely inert. Within a hive, the beeswax is filled up with impurities buy it does not change its composition. For this reason it can be reused after many years just by heating and purifying it.
The color of beeswax varies in accordance with the pollen pigmentation. The very pigmented substances that are can be found in the pollen grains of entomophilus plants, are soluble in fatty substances. They easily dissolve themselves into beeswax and color it. Afterwards, the beeswax incorporates the propolis brought by bees, the cocoons silk and other substances. At a close microscope observation, an old comb turns out to be made of a material that contains disparate elements, more solid than the thin pellicle that initially formed the beeswax.
Beeswax secretion is influenced by temperature and food. Bees produce wax at temperatures between 33-360 Celsius degrees. If the temperature lowers the bees cease to produce wax. Bees have to consume honey/sugar and pollen to be able to secrete wax. Beekeepers have observed that honeybees need around 5 kg of honey or 6 kg of sugar in order to be able to produce wax. The pollen is extremely important for wax production. It contains nitrogen, which determines the regeneration of wax producing cells.
Beeswax secretion is determined by the quantity of food stored within the hive. During intense nectar gatherings, wax production and comb building unfold very quickly. In order to build combs on the empty frames in a hive, the honeybees group themselves into conic formations, positioned upside down. They manage to form a bee chain under the empty back of a frame. The bunch formed by the bees is thin on the outside and thick in the inside so as to keep a constant temperature of 33-360C, necessary for the secretion of wax scales.
When building artificial combs, the bees first sit on the comb foil in order to heat it over 300C and make the wax easy to be used. After the wax becomes flexible, the bees model the bottom of the cells and the surplus is used to build the wax walls that have a height of 3-6 mm. Artificial combs are built simultaneously on both sides.
Beeswax bleachingBeeswax bleaching is done with the help of an old but efficient method. The Beeswax is laid in thin layers on wire sieves and put into the sunlight. It is turned upside down for several times so as to expose into the sunlight every single part. The treatment has to be during several sunny weeks.
Physical and chemical characteristics of beeswaxThe beeswax is a very complex substance. It is made of three main elements: carbon (80%), hydrogen (13%) and oxygen (7%). Beeswax had the following chemical composition: free wax acids (13.5-14%), esters of wax acids (71%), hydrocarbons (10.5-13.5%), free alcohols (1-1.25%), cholesterol esters (1%), moisture and impurities (pollen, resins, etc,- 1-2%).
Beeswax is unsolvable into water and more or less solvable in various organic solvents. The best is the benzene (100 g of beeswax can be solved in 100 g of benzene, at a temperature of 450C). Turpentine is also a very good solvent. Warm alcohol does not dissolve wax very good but it separates it from the propolis which is extremely soluble in alcohol. Pure wax melts at about +640C. Pure wax becomes solid at 63oC. Beeswax has a volume varying between 927kg/m3 (minimum value) and 970 kg/ m3 (maximum value), at a temperature of 15 Celsius degrees.
Beeswax technologyThere are two types of beeswax: the one that comes from the comb caps and the one obtained from melting the combs. Beekeepers use different technologies to obtain the wax from the caps and the wax from the combs. Beeswax obtained from old bee combs
Old melted bee combs contain huge quantities of propolis, pollen and cocoons. In order to obtain wax out of this mixture, beekeepers need a special apparatus. The best is a wax melting apparatus especially created for this activity. For a small number of old combs beekeepers can use off-handed installations but these are not always very efficient.
Beeswax melting apparatuses function with the help of water steams of warm water. When the wax is melted with the help of water steams, the old combs are placed in a metallic basket. The steam obtained from gas heating the water tank located at the bottom of the smelter, melts the wax. Thus, it is collected the melted wax and the water resulted after the condensation process. After the extraction is over, the basket, which contains only residues, is removed. These residues still contain wax, but this can be extracted only with the help of organic solvents.
If beekeepers decide to use an apparatus that extracts beeswax with the help of warm water, they have to submerge the old bee combs into warm water. In order to prevent their floating they are put into a basket or a jute sack. The basket can have at its top a piston whose purpose is to exercise a certain pressure. While in the jute sack has to be put a few big stones. The warm water, melts the wax that floats on the water surface and then flows through an opening that can be found in the upper part of the vat.
In order to obtain a pure wax, which can be modeled in regular shaped blocks, it is absolutely necessary to re-fuse the wax or at least keep it under a liquid form for as long as possible, so as to completely separate wax from water and other impurities. The bottom of the wax block obtained after the cooling, has to be cut off. In order to obtain wax blocks without impurities it is necessary to pour the wax into enameled recipients, and let it cool as slow as possible. The spaces between the enameled recipients have to be sealed. Without this supplementary measure the wax blocks either crack or contract themselves in unaesthetic forms. Beeswax obtained from cappings
During the process of wax cap removal, not only wax but also an important quantity of honey is obtained. The problem is how to separate the two hive products without damaging their properties.
The cappings are put into a press whose pressure is increased gradually. Unfortunately this operation takes a lot of time and the press has a limited capacity.
Another method consists in putting the cappings on a recipient that has at its bottom a sieve. The recipient is put in a heated room. Once in a while the cappings are shaken. The honey wax separation process is satisfactory but unfortunately requires a lot of time.
There are special apparatuses called capping smelters, which can separate honey from wax through heating. However, the functioning of this apparatuses has to be closely observed by the beekeepers in order to prevent the honey overheating.
There are centrifuges for the cappings that are time-saving and very efficient. The centrifuged cappings are dried and the flowing honey is clean.
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