May 22, 2024

Impact of COVID-19 on the Industrial Alcohol Market: Resilience and Adaptation

Industrial Uses of Ethyl Alcohol (Ethanol)

Production of Industrial Alcohol
Ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol, is mainly produced through fermentation of carbohydrate feedstocks like grains, fruits or sugar crops. The most common industrial processes for producing ethanol include grain fermentation, sugarcane fermentation and cellulosic ethanol production. In grain fermentation, grains like corn, wheat or barley are mashed to convert their starches into fermentable sugars which are then fermented by yeast to produce ethanol. Similarly, in sugarcane fermentation, sugarcane juice is directly fermented by yeast to yield ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol production relies on breaking down cellulose and hemicellulose fibers from non-edible plant biomass into simple sugars using enzymes, which are then fermented.

Uses of Industrial Alcohol in Chemical Industry
One of the major uses of industrial alcohol is in the production of chemical intermediates and end products. Ethanol serves as a basic raw material in the manufacture of many chemicals through hydration, oxidation, and other reactions. It is used to produce ethyl ethanoate, also known as acetic acid, which is used to make paints, coatings, adhesives and plasticizers. Ethanol also acts as an intermediate in synthesizing glycol ethers that function as solvents in paints, cosmetics and cleaning products. Other chemical derivatives of ethanol include ethylene and diethyl ether which find applications as fuels and anesthetic agents respectively.

Use as Solvent and Extractant
Due to its low toxicity, ethanol is widely applied as an extractant and solvent in various industries. It is commonly used to extract essential oils from plants. Ethanol extraction is preferred over other toxic solvents as it efficiently dissolves aromatic compounds from botanical raw materials without leaving any residues. Ethanol extractants like vanilla extract, mint extract etc are used as natural flavorings. It also acts as an excellent solvent for nitrocellulose, resins and gums used in lacquers and paints. In pharmaceuticals, ethanol dissolves drug compounds and helps in formation of tinctures, elixirs and liquid oral medications.

Usage as Fuel and Fuel additive
Ethanol is increasingly being blended with gasoline to produce motor fuels with better engine performance and reduced emissions. E-10 gasoline containing 10% ethanol by volume is the most common blend used across North America and Brazil. Higher ethanol blends like E-85 containing 51%-83% ethanol are also gaining popularity. When used as a fuel additive or oxygenate, ethanol increases octane rating and acts as a renewable alternative to petroleum. It has a higher motor octane number than gasoline alone which prevents engine knocking. Ethanol fuel also generates less greenhouse emissions than conventional gasoline during combustion. With stringent emissions norms, ethanol fuel is anticipated to play a more crucial role in future transportation needs.

Application as Preservative
The bactericidal properties of ethanol make it suitable for use as a preservative, especially in cosmetic and food products. In the cosmetic industry, ethanol is added to fragrances, lotions, creams and other preparations as a solvent and preservative. It inhibits the growth of microbes that can cause spoilage. In the food sector, ethanol is approved by food regulatory bodies as an antimicrobial preservative. It is commonly used in food additives, syrups and extracts to extend shelf life without compromising taste or nutrition. The alcoholic content inhibits microbial proliferation and prevents food contamination over long periods of storage under ambient conditions.

Use in Manufacturing Industries
Industrial alcohol is extensively used as a process chemical across various manufacturing industries. It serves as a cleaning agent for removing oils, greases, tars and carbon deposits in metal fabrication and machining units. Ethanol helps dissolve and flush away particulate matter left behind during mechanical operations. It also acts as a degreasing solvent in many automotive and engineering workshops. The paint and coatings industry relies on ethanol for cleaning and dewatering of equipment between job changes. Other manufacturing applications of industrial ethanol include its use as an adhesive agent in formulation of contact cements and wood glues. It is also commonly employed as a solvent for inks and adhesives used in the printing industry.

This covers some of the major industrial applications of ethyl alcohol. To summarize, ethanol serves versatile functions as a chemical building block, solvent, extractant, fuel, preservative and process chemical across many sectors. Its renewable sourcing, low cost and favorable environmental and safety profile have enhanced industrial adoption of ethanol over the years. With advancing ethanol production technologies, its usage scope in industry is expected to further expand in the future.