Amazing Ethanol/C2H6O: Properties, Synthesis, Reaction and Applications

Ethanol, commonly referred to as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol, is a colorless, less viscous liquid that is volatile and has a distinctive sweet smell. It has the chemical formula C2H5OH. Because of the hydroxyl (-OH) group, it is an alcohol. It is a form of alcohol that is frequently used for several things, such as fuel, solvents, and beverages for leisure. Since it has a capacity for dissolving a wide variety of materials, it can be used to extract and preserve botanical extracts, essential oils, and other active components.

It is created by the fermentation process, in which yeast or bacteria transform carbohydrates into alcohol. It can come from a variety of sources, including biomass, fruits, and cereals (such as corn, wheat, or barley). The body can use it as a source of energy. Contrary to other nutrients, it offers calories but is regarded as a non-essential energy source. Carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins are the main sources of energy for the body, but ethanol is metabolized first due to its potential toxicity.

Physical properties:

  1. Density: The density of ethanol is about 0.789 g/mL at room temperature.
  2. Boiling Point: Approximately 78.37°C.
  3. Melting Point: -114.1°C.
  4. Solubility: It is highly soluble in water and many organic solvents.
  5. Refractive Index: The refractive index is about 1.36.

Chemical properties:

  1. Combustibility: Ethanol is flammable and can catch fire if there is an ignition source nearby. When it burns, water and carbon dioxide are released.
  2. Dehydration: Under some circumstances, it can be dehydrated, resulting in the formation of ethylene (C2H4) and water. Acidic environments or high temperatures are common catalysts for this reaction.
  3. Reactivity: This solvent has a wide spectrum of polar and nonpolar compounds that it can dissolve. It can go through a variety of chemical processes, including fermentation, esterification, and oxidation.
  4. Acid-base properties: It can react with strong bases to generate salts even though it is a weak acid. As a base, it can combine with strong acids to create salts.
  5. Oxidation: It can be oxidized by a variety of oxidizing agents into acetaldehyde and then further into acetic acid. In living organisms, enzymes referred to as alcohol dehydrogenases frequently catalyze this oxidation reaction.
  6. Hydrogen Bonding: Water molecules and other molecules of ethanol can establish hydrogen bonds with each other. This characteristic helps explain both its solubility in water and its capacity to dissolve other polar molecules.
  7. Esterification: Ethanol may generate esters by reacting with acids, a process that is frequently employed to create perfumes and flavorings.

Synthesis/ Production:

It can be synthesized through different processes. Some of the common methods used for the synthesis are as follows:


Fermentation is the process that produces ethanol most frequently. It involves the action of yeast or bacteria that convert carbohydrates into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Various feedstocks, such as grains (such as corn, wheat, or barley), sugarcane, molasses, or cellulosic biomass, can be used in the fermentation process. Enzymes found in microorganisms convert the carbohydrates into ethanol and carbon dioxide during fermentation.

Catalytic hydration of ethylene

Ethylene, which is generated from petroleum or natural gas, can be catalytically hydrated to produce ethanol. In this procedure, phosphoric acid or another solid acid catalyst is used to facilitate the reaction of ethylene with steam. Ethanol is created because of the reaction.

Direct synthesis from syngas

The direct conversion of synthesis gas (syngas) to ethanol is another way of producing it. Carbon monoxide and hydrogen are combined to form syngas, which can be produced from a variety of feedstocks, such as coal, natural gas, or biomass. To make ethanol, the method involves catalytically converting syngas over a suitable catalyst, such as copper-based catalysts or mixed metal oxide catalysts.

Biochemical conversion of lignocellulosic biomass

Additionally, lignocellulosic biomass can be used to make ethanol, including agricultural waste, forestry waste, and crops grown specifically for energy. Several processes are involved in this process, including pretreatment of the biomass to dissolve the lignocellulosic structure, enzymatic hydrolysis of the cellulose to create sugars, and fermentation of the sugars to create ethanol. This approach, which is still under development, intends to use non-food feedstocks to produce it.

Chemical reactions: 

It undergoes various chemical reactions due to the presence of its functional group, the hydroxyl (-OH) group.

  • Combustion: In the presence of oxygen, ethanol may burn and is quite flammable. As a result of this reaction, carbon dioxide and water are created, and heat and light are also released.

C2H5OH + 3O2 → 2CO2 + 3H2O

  • Dehydration: Dehydration, which involves removing a water molecule from the ethanol molecule, is a process that ethanol can go through. A concentrated sulfuric acid or phosphoric acid catalyst is frequently used to catalyze the process. Ethylene (C2H4) and water are the products of this reaction.

C2H5OH → C2H4 + H2O

  • Oxidation: Depending on the oxidizing agent employed, ethanol can be oxidized to produce a variety of compounds. It can be partially oxidized to generate acetaldehyde (CH3CHO) in the presence of an oxidizing agent like potassium dichromate (K2Cr2O7) and sulfuric acid (H2SO4). It has the potential to entirely oxidize into carbon dioxide and water under more intense oxidation conditions. Strong oxidizing substances like potassium permanganate (KMnO4) or chromic acid (H2CrO4) are frequently used to achieve this reaction.

C2H5OH + [O] CH3CHO + H2O

  • Esterification: Esters can be created when it react with carboxylic acids through an acidic catalyst. Esterification is a name given to this reaction. Ethyl acetate (CH3COOC2H5) and water are the products of this reaction.



  1. Fuel: Ethanol is frequently added to gasoline or used as a biofuel. Vehicles run on ethanol-blended fuels known as E10 and E85, in which ethanol and petrol are used in proportions of 10% and 90%, respectively, and E85, in which the proportion of ethanol and petrol is 85 and 15%, respectively. Fuel ethanol contributes to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.
  2. Solvent: It is a powerful solvent that is frequently used in cosmetics, personal care, and pharmaceuticals. It is employed in the creation of herbal extracts, tinctures, and perfumes to dissolve and extract active components from plant sources. Additionally, ethanol is a solvent used in the production of dyes, inks, paints, and cleaning products.
  3. Effects on the Central Nervous System: It is a depressant of the central nervous system. It can have a variety of consequences when eaten in moderate to high doses, including relaxation, poor judgment, a lack of coordination, and lowered inhibitions. Ethanol’s effects on the brain’s neurotransmitters and neural networks are what cause these side effects.
  4. Antibacterial: It is utilized as an antiseptic and disinfectant because of its antibacterial characteristics. It is frequently employed as a hand sanitizer and surface disinfectant in hospitals, clinics, and laboratories. By breaking their cellular membranes and denaturing their proteins, ethanol efficiently eliminates bacteria and viruses.
  5. Pharmaceuticals: Various pharmaceutical medications, such as oral solutions, syrups, and topical treatments, are made using ethanol as a solvent. It improves the absorption of medication’s active components by aiding in their dissolution and stabilization.
  6. Food and Beverage business: It is a preservative, flavor enhancer, and component used in the food and beverage business to make alcoholic beverages. It serves as the main component of alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, and spirits. Food extracts, flavorings, and coloring agents are also produced using ethanol.
  7. Research and labs: It is frequently utilized in labs for a variety of functions. It serves as a reagent in biological assays as well as a solvent for chemical reactions, compound extraction, and other processes. Additionally, It is employed in cryopreservation as a cryoprotectant to maintain biological samples, including cells and tissues.
  8. Cleaning and Sanitizing: It is employed in a variety of industries, including the automotive, industrial, and domestic cleaning sectors. It effectively eliminates bacteria and germs while assisting in the removal of grime, grease, and stains from surfaces.

How does ethanol metabolize in the body?

The body’s process of metabolizing ethanol is known as ethanol metabolism. Alcohol dehydrogenase breaks down ethanol into acetaldehyde, which acetaldehyde dehydrogenase then breaks down into acetate. Acetate is subsequently converted into carbon dioxide and water, which the body can expel. While moderate alcohol use may have some positive health effects, excessive and long-term alcohol use can be hazardous to the liver, brain, and cardiovascular system, among other organs. Abusing alcohol over a long period of time increases the chance of developing cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, and liver damage.

What is Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)?

BAC represented as the ethanol concentration in human blood. It is frequently used to gauge an individual’s level of intoxication. Depending on the country and jurisdiction, a particular BAC level is often specified as the legal limit for driving while intoxicated.

Is ethanol a dehydrating substance?

Since ethanol is a diuretic, it causes more urine to be produced and may cause dehydration. This is one of the causes of symptoms including thirst, a dry mouth, and dehydration-related consequences that can result from excessive alcohol consumption.

Why do alcohol drinkers feel warmer?

Consuming ethanol can lead to vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels. Although it may feel warm, this stimulates blood to flow closer to the skin’s surface, which causes the body to lose heat. Due to this, drinking alcohol can make people feel warmer even in chilly situations, but it also raises the danger of hypothermia.

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