About Ethanol

The Fine Details

Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is a clear, colourless and volatile liquid with a characteristic smell that is most commonly referred to as alcohol. It is widely used as a solvent in cosmetic applications, a preservative in pharmaceutical preparations and is the principle ingredient in alcoholic beverages. Ethanol is also a renewable form of fuel and is most commonly blended with traditional fossil fuels in many countries around the world.


Ethanol is a volatile, colorless liquid that with a slight odor. It burns with a smokeless blue flame that is invisible in normal light. The chemical formula for ethanol is C2H6O which is commonly abbreviated as EtOH. The physical properties of ethanol stem primarily from the presence of its hydroxyl group and the shortness of its carbon chain. Ethanol’s hydroxyl group has the ability to participate in hydrogen bonding, rendering it more viscous and less volatile than less polar organic compounds of similar molecular weight.


Chemical Names: Ethanol, Ethyl alcohol,  Alcohol, Grain alcohol
INCI Name: Ethyl Alcohol
CAS Number: 64-17-5.
Molecular formula: CH3CH2OH or C2H6O
Molecular Weight: 46.069 g/mol
UN Number: 1170
Hazardous Class: Flammable liquid 3
Ethanol Melting Point            1150C
Ethanol Boiling Point              780C
Ethanol Specific Gravity         0.789


Ethanol is produced by the fermentation of carbohydrate derived sugars with yeast or it is produced in a thermochemical process from a wide range of feedstocks. Almost any plant matter can used to produce ethanol and common feedstocks include sugar cane, corn, sugar beet, sweet sorghum and potato. Cellulose feedstocks are non food based such as wood chips, specifically grown crops and industrial waste. Cellulosic feedstocks offer great advantages over sugar-based feedstocks. They are either waste products or purposely grown energy crops harvested from marginal lands not suitable for other crops. Less energy is required to grow, collect, and convert them to ethanol than traditional crops, and they are not used for human food. Ethanol can be distilled after fermentation to a maximum strength of 96.4% ethanol and to achieve 99.9% strength it is most commonly put through a molecular sieve to remove the remaining water.

The majority of the world’s ethanol is produced from sugarcane and corn in Brasil and the USA respectfully and the two producers account for 87% of the world’s ethanol production. Other major ethanol producers include South Africa, Pakistan and India with Spain, France, China, Thailand, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Colombia, Australia also contributing to the world’s total ethanol output.

South Africa has an established ethanol industry producing high purity ethanol, popular with both beverage and industrial users such as perfumers and pharmaceutical manufacturers. It is also well placed geographically to serve markets in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. South Africa does not have legislation that allows ethanol to blended into the fuel so the 460 million litres of ethanol produced locally every year are consumed by the traditional users of potable and industrial ethanol.



Ethanol is one of the world’s oldest recreational drugs and is legally consumed in most countries around the world. Ethanol, at various strengths, is the main ingredient in all alcoholic beverages and is responsible for the intoxicating effect associated with consuming the thousands of types of alcoholic beverages available today.


Alcohol is an excellent solvent especially for non polar compounds which dissolve easily into ethanol.  It evaporates quickly with little or no smell and leaves no residue. Ethanol is widely used because of these properties to dissolve  essential oils, vegetable hydrocarbons, soaps, sugars, alkaloids,  resins, esters, fatty acids, and pharmaceutical ingredients such as, chloralamide,camphor, phenacetin, acetanilide and phenazone.


As early as 1363 ethanol was used as an antiseptic and is still widely used in medicine as a disinfectant, antiseptic and antidote. Most people will be familiar with the process of having their skin disinfected with alcohol before an injection is administered. Health care practitioners will used it to disinfect their hands when working with patients. Its is also taken orally as an antidote to ethylene glycol or methanol toxicity.


In addition to its use a solvent in cosmetic products ethanol is also a useful preservative because of its antibacterial properties. Its is also non-carcinogenic when applied topically and generally safe to use in cosmetic products.

Fuel Energy

The same Ethanol that is consumed in alcoholic beverages also has great calorific value as a biofuel.  Ethanol contains 30% less energy than the petroleum and is blended with traditional fossil fuels at various ratios. In the USA 97% of all gasoline contains 10% ethanol made from corn and is referred to as E10. In Brazil the percentage of ethanol is higher at between 20-25%. Car manufacturers in Brazil have started to produce vehicles that run on 100% ethanol and the fuel is know locally as E100. Ethanol is now an important source of energy and is helping countries achieve a more balanced energy mix.

What is Denatured Ethanol ?

Denatured ethanol is ethanol with additives that make it unsuitable for recreational consumption. It is not chemically altered but the additives present make it foul tasting, nauseating or foul smelling. Denaturants are chosen for these properties and to for their ability to form an azeotropic bond with the ethanol that is impossible to separate by distillation.

Why denature ethanol?

The vast majority of the ethanol produced in the world today is sold for industrial applications such as fuels and solvents. Denaturing is a useful way of distinguishing ethanol that is not to be used in the manufacture of beverages and therefore does not attract the high taxes that are associated with potable ethanol. By denaturing ethanol the manufacture and users of industrial ethanol can prove, chemically, that the ethanol they are using cannot be used to make potable alcoholic products. This policy compromise has allowed users of ethanol for industrial purposes to have access to a widely available chemical at the correct price.