Ethanol: Production, Reactions and Uses


Ethanol is a chemical compound(alcohol). It serves as a fuel, solvent, and ingredient in a number of products. The liquid has a distinct flavor and scent and is combustible. As renewable resource, ethanol is made from plants like wheat, sugar cane, and corn.

For decades, ethanol has been utilized as fuel. The first internal combustion engine was actually developed in 1876 by Nikolaus Otto, and it was designed to run on ethanol.

Ethanol is being used as a fuel additive, particularly in gasoline engines. By including ethanol, gasoline’s octane rating is increased and dangerous pollutants are reduced.

Ethanol creates fewer greenhouse gases and other pollutants than gasoline since it burns cleaner than gasoline.

One of the most common uses of ethanol is in alcoholic beverages. Beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages are made by fermenting carbohydrates with yeast to create alcohol.

Beer normally has 4-6% by volume of ethanol, wine contains 12-14%, and spirits can range from 30-50% by volume. Other alcoholic beverages have different quantities of ethanol.

Table of Contents

1. Production of Ethanol

Starting with the transformation of a carbon-based substance, like corn or sugar cane, into a sugar-rich solution, the production of ethanol typically starts. The fermentation process is then initiated by combining the sugar-rich solution with yeast or bacteria. Through the action of microorganisms, the solution’s sugars are decomposed into ethanol and carbon dioxide during the fermentation process.

Following fermentation, the ethanol is purified and concentrated using a procedure known as distillation. The ethanol is evaporated from the fermented solution applying heat in this technique, and the ethanol is then collected and condensed to create a more concentrated solution. Until the ethanol reaches the required concentration, this procedure is carried out several times.

Yet, fermentation is not the only technique employed for manufacturing ethanol. Chemical synthesis is another method for producing ethanol, but it is less conventional and more expensive than fermentation. In chemical synthesis, ethylene and steam react, producing ethanol in the presence of a catalyst. The ethylene hydration process, as it is often known, is frequently applied in the petroleum industry.

Acetylene and water react to produce ethanol chemically, which is another method of producing it. Ethanol is one of the results of this procedure, also referred to as the Reppe synthesis. However, because acetylene is expensive and there is a chance that hazardous byproducts could form, this approach is not commonly utilized.

2. Uses of Ethanol

Since ancient times, ethanol has been used for a wide range of things, from traditional drinks to industrial solvents. Due to its potential as a renewable and sustainable fuel source, ethanol has recently drawn significant attention. Some of the most typical applications for ethanol are:

  • Fuel: Ethanol is frequently added to gasoline as a fuel additive, usually in ratios that range from 5% to 85% ethanol (known as E5 to E85).

Due to its ability to be produced from a number of resources, such as corn, sugarcane, and cellulosic materials, ethanol is becoming more and more popular as a fuel source.

Fuels containing ethanol are also well known for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.

  • Alcoholic Beverages: Ethanol is a key ingredient in the production of alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, and spirits. The process of fermentation converts sugars into ethanol, which gives alcoholic beverages their characteristic taste and intoxicating effects. In addition to its use in traditional alcoholic beverages, ethanol is also used in the production of various flavored liqueurs and as a base for many cocktails.

  • Industrial Solvent: Ethanol is a versatile solvent that is commonly used in the production of various products, including cosmetics, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals. Ethanol is also used as a cleaning agent and solvent in industrial settings, as it is effective at dissolving a wide range of substances.

  • Disinfectant: Ethanol is a powerful disinfectant that is commonly used in hospitals, laboratories, and other healthcare settings to kill bacteria, viruses, and other harmful microorganisms. Ethanol is also used in the production of hand sanitizers and disinfectant sprays.

  • Chemical Intermediate: Ethanol is a key intermediate in the production of various chemicals, including acetic acid, ethylene, and butadiene. These chemicals are used in a wide range of applications, including the production of plastics, rubber, and textiles.

  • Alternative Energy Source: Ethanol can be used as a source of alternative energy in a variety of applications, including fuel cells and as a feedstock for the production of biofuels. The use of ethanol as an alternative energy source is growing in popularity due to its potential as a renewable and sustainable fuel source.

3. Chemical reactions of ethanol

  • Flammability: Ethanol is highly flammable and can ignite at relatively low temperatures. This property makes it a useful fuel source but also poses a safety risk if not handled properly.

  • Acid-Base Properties: Ethanol is a weak acid and can react with strong bases to form ethoxide ions. It can also react with strong acids to form ethyl esters.

  • Oxidation: Ethanol can be oxidized to form acetaldehyde and then further oxidized to form acetic acid. This property is important in the production of vinegar, which is made by fermenting ethanol with acetic acid bacteria.

  • Ethanol is a highly reactive substance and can react with a wide range of other chemicals, including acids, bases, oxidizing agents, and reducing agents. For example, it can react with sodium metal to form sodium ethoxide and hydrogen gas.



I am a passionate organic chemist and continuously learning about various industrial chemistry processes and chemical products. I ensure all information on this website is accurate and meticulously referenced to scientific articles.