Ethanol is a simple alcohol, also referred to as ethyl alcohol or drinking alcohol. It is a common alcohol that can be burned as fuel. It's chemical formula is C2H6O and it is a clear, colourless liquid with a characteristic alcoholic odour. Ethanol is primarily used as a solvent when making varnishes and perfumes and as a preservative for biological specimens. As well, ethanol is used as a disinfectant and is consumed as a drink. A special type of ethanol, known as bioethanol is used as a gasoline additive or an alternative fuel source.
Ethanol can be produced in two ways, using either petroleum or biomass. The ethanol produced using biomass is known as bioethanol, and this process is explained on the bioethanol page. For the petroleum production, in large chemical plants raw materials separated from petroleum can be converted to ethanol through hydration processes, which is basically letting the raw materials react with water. Usually the process requires a catalyst (often phosphoric acid) added under an excess of high pressure steam to the reaction chamber to increase the reaction rate, so that more ethanol will be produced.
Below is a table of some of the basic properties of ethanol.
|Molar mass||46.07 grams/mole|
|Energy density||29.7 MJ/kg|
Ethanol is used as a combustible fuel. Below is an animation showing the net reaction that occurs during the combustion of ethanol. It should be noted that ethanol requires oxygen to undergo combustion. While the CO2 will eventually be taken up in plant matter, it isn't immediate, see carbon dioxide atmospheric residence time.