The antifreeze that keeps our cars running through winter is made of the incredibly toxic ethylene glycol, an odorless liquid with a sweet taste that tempts children and animals, then causes symptoms that start off like alcohol intoxication and end with kidney failure. Around 90,000 pets and wild animals are poisoned by antifreeze every year, according to the Humane Society, and the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 6,000 human poisonings in 2012.

At the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society on Wednesday, researchers at ACTA Technology proposed a new alternative adapted from a common food additive. In addition to being safe for kids and pets -- as well as cheaper to dispose of because it's nontoxic -- the patented product may even be more efficient than the poisonous standard.

Propylene glycol is already "generally recognized as safe" by the FDA, and it's used as an additive in foods and cosmetics. It's also already used as an antifreeze, but only in places like food processing plants where ethylene glycol would be too dangerous to have around. It's too thick on its own to really be practical where ethylene glycol can be used, which leaves home consumers forced to stick with the dangerous stuff.

The new product, which was developed with the help of a 2012 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, gets around that problem by adding tiny particles of metal oxide that act as thinners to the mix.

The particles have the added benefit of making the antifreeze more efficient at dispersing heat than products currently on the market. That's because just one gram of the particles contain a combined surface area of 100 square meters. That increased surface area makes the liquid -- which can now flow quickly enough to work efficiently -- really great at transferring heat.

"Because ACTA's patented propylene glycol/water mixture with our additive increases the heat transfer of the flow systems, vehicle manufacturers could make these systems smaller," ACTA chief technology officer Edward Clancy said in a statement. "A smaller radiator would result in a lighter car, thereby increasing fuel economy and cutting emissions."

At a Wednesday press conference held by the American Chemical Society, Clancy and fellow ACTA representatives said that within a year they hoped to see their product used in the food industries that now rely on inefficient propylene glycol. But eventually, they hope the new compound will serve as a safer, more efficient, and perhaps even less expensive alternative for car owners everywhere.