Industrial alcohol refers to ethanol or ethyl alcohol that is produced and distributed for commercial and industrial use rather than for consumption as an alcoholic beverage. With its versatility and wide range of applications, industrial alcohol has established itself as an important product fueling many industries.
What is Industrial Alcohol?
Industrial alcohol, also known as denatured alcohol, is ethanol that has been rendered undrinkable by adding ingredients approved by the government. This process is called denaturing. Denaturing involves adding chemicals like methanol, isopropanol, acetone etc. at specific concentrations to ensure the alcohol is not consumed. Though rendered undrinkable, denatured alcohols retain the chemical properties of ethanol such as solvent activity and flammability making it suitable for industrial applications.
Production of Industrial Alcohol
Industrial alcohol is mainly produced from agricultural feedstocks like corn, sugarcane, wheat etc. through fermentation and distillation processes. The fermented mash is then distilled to separate ethanol from water. The purified ethanol is then denatured by adding approved denaturants before being distributed for industrial use. Some countries also allow the production of industrial alcohol through chemical synthesis using petrochemical feedstocks. The annual global production capacity of industrial alcohol exceeds several billion liters.
Applications of Industrial Alcohol
Due to its solvent properties and low cost, industrial alcohol finds usage in a wide variety of applications across many industries:
As an antimicrobial agent, industrial alcohol is used in hand sanitizers, antiseptics, disinfectants and sterilization products. It also acts as a solvent for active pharmaceutical ingredients in manufacturing various medicines.
Personal Care Industry
Alcohol is used as an astringent in cosmetics, hair sprays and aftershaves. It is also used as a preservative and carrier for fragrances in perfumes and colognes.
Denatured ethanol helps dissolve contaminants and water in automotive antifreeze and brake fluid. It is also used as a cleaner and degreaser for parts in manufacturing.
Paints, Coatings and Adhesives Industry
The solvent properties of alcohol make it suitable for thinning coatings, removing paints and cleansing surfaces. It is found in paint strippers, contact adhesives and varnishes.
Industrial alcohol is used as a raw material in synthesis of other chemicals like ethyl acetate, ethylene and polyethylene. It is also used as an extraction solvent.
Ethanol is used as a preservative in vaccines, tissue culture media and blood samples storage. Its antiseptic qualities make it useful for disinfecting laboratory surfaces.
Government Regulations around Industrial Alcohol
Considering the risk of alcohol diversion and misuse if not regulated properly, most governments have strict rules governing industrial alcohol. Agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US approve the denaturants and their concentrations. Record keeping of production, sales and inventory is also mandated. Denatured alcohols have to be shipped and stored separately from consumable alcohol goods. Independent labs inspect production facilities periodically to check for compliance. These policies aim to prevent accidental or willful reconversion of industrial alcohol into consumable alcohol.
With such a wide range of demanding applications, industrial alcohol has established itself as a indispensable industrial fluid supporting many vital industries. Though dangerous if misused, industrial grade ethanol efficiently serves important functions when produced and handled responsibly according to applicable regulations. It is likely that new innovative uses of industrial alcohol will continue