Ethanol is an organic compound that is also commonly known as ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol, drinking alcohol, or alcohol. It is very simple alcohol formed by a bond between an ethyl group and a hydroxyl group (C2H6O or EtOH).
Ethanol’s Chemical Properties
Ethyl alcohol is a colorless liquid with a strong, distinctive odor, similar to that of methanol. When on fire, it burns with a smoke-free blue flame—through the blue flame is usually invisible in normal light. Since ethanol has a hydroxyl group in its structure, it can form hydrogen bonds, meaning that it is more viscous but less volatile than similar organic compounds.
As a solvent, it is extremely versatile and widely used. It is completely miscible with water and a variety of other solvents like acetic acid, benzene, and chloroform. Ethyl alcohol is very flammable and will ignite at about 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit) if an ignition source is applied—however, this does depend on pressure and humidity in the environment.
How is Ethanol Made?
Ethyl alcohol is produced naturally as an outcome of crop or yeast fermentation. Most commonly, it is produced from starch in the grain of corn crops. It may also be produced through a process called ethylene hydration, during which ethylene is combined with water in the presence of a catalyst like dilute sulfuric acid to manufacture pure ethanol. Ethylene hydration is only used in industrial settings to produce large quantities of ethyl alcohol.
What is Ethanol used for?
This type of alcohol has many purposes. Since it is not extremely toxic to humans, it has become a major part of everyday items. This includes:
- hand sanitizers
- lacquers and varnish
- cleaning products
- food coloring and extract flavor enhancer
- alcoholic beverages
- medical antiseptic and disinfectant products
- pain, cough, and cold medications
Aside from common applications, it is also utilized in the industrial field for things like:
- rocket fuel
- racing aircraft fuel
- internal combustion engine fuel
- fuel cells
- solvent uses
- cooling baths in laboratories
- fluid in alcohol thermometers
- synthesizing organic chemicals
Although it is used in so many products, there are still some safety hazards. Since this compound is extremely flammable, it should not be used near open flames, sparks, or smoke, and should be used only in a properly ventilated area, as vapors mix well with air and can form explosive mixtures. Vapor inhalation may cause dizziness, and skin or eye exposure can cause irritation and burning. Full safety information can be found here. That being said, the FDA has regarded ethanol as GRAS (generally recognized as safe), meaning that it does not pose any huge threat to users.
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