Ethanol, C2H5OH, (also called Ethyl Alcohol) is the second member of the aliphatic alcohol series. It is a clear colourless liquid with a pleasant smell. Except for alcoholic beverages, nearly all the ethanol used industrially is a mixture of 95% ethanol and 5% water, which is known simply as 95% alcohol. Although pure ethyl alcohol (known as absolute alcohol) is available, it is much more expensive and is used only when definitely required.


Ethanol is prepared as 95% alcohol (i.e. a 95% solution of ethanol in water) by distillation of the solution which results from the fermentation of sugars.


There are two major industrial pathways to ethanol. Ethanol which is intended for industrial use is made by the first method, while ethanol intended for food use tends to be made by the second method.
Reaction of Ethene with Steam
Most of the ethanol used in industry is made, not by alcoholic fermentation, but by an addition reaction between ethene and steam.

	C2H4     +      H2O   ==>       C2H5OH  
	Ethene          Steam             Ethanol 

Alcoholic Fermentation

Absolute Ethanol

Whatever method of preparation is used, the ethanol is initially obtained in admixture with water. The ethanol is then extracted from this solution by fractional distillation.

Although the boiling point of ethanol, 78.3 degC, is significantly lower than the boiling point of water, 100 degC, these material cannot be separated completely by distillation. Instead, an azeotropic mixture (i.e. a mixture of 95% ethanol and 5% water) is obtained, and the boiling point of the azeotrope is 78.15oC. In a distillation, the most volatile material (i.e. the material that has the lowest boiling point) is the first material to distill from the distillation flask, and this material is the azeotrope of 95% ethanol which has the lowest boiling point. If an efficient fractionating column is used, there is obtained first 95% alcohol, then a small intermediate fraction of lower concentration, and then water. But no matter how efficient the fractionating column used, 95% alcohol cannot be further concentrated by distillation.

The separation of a mixture by fractional distillation occurs because the vapour has a different composition from the liquid from which it distils (i.e. the vapour is richer in the more volatile component). We cannot separate 95% alcohol into its components by distillation, because here the vapour has exactly the same composition as the liquid; towards distillation, then, 95% alcohol behaves exactly like a pure compound.

A liquid mixture that has the peculiar property of giving a vapour of the same composition is called an azeotrope (i.e. a constant-boiling mixture). Since it contains two components 95% alcohol is a binary azeotrope. Most azeotropes, like 95% alcohol, have boiling points lower than those of their components, and are known as minimum-boiling mixtures. Azeotropes having boiling points higher than those of their components are known as maximum-boiling mixtures.

Physical Properties

Ethanol is a colourless liquid with a pleasant smell. It is completely miscible with water and organic solvents and is very hydroscopic.

		Melting Point           -1150C  
		Boiling Point              780C 
		Specific Gravity         0.79. 

Chemical Properties of Ethanol

Combustion of Ethanol
Ethanol burns with a pale blue, non luminous flame to form carbon dioxide and steam.

	C2H5OH + 3O2    ==>         2CO2 + 3H2O 

Oxidation of Ethanol
Ethanol is oxidised
  • with acidified Potassium Dichromate, K2Cr2O7, or
  • with acidified Sodium Dichromate, Na2Cr2O7, or
  • with acidified potassium permanganate, KMnO4,
to form ethanal, (i.e. acetaldehyde).

	C2H5OH  ==>     CH3CHO + H2O    
	Ethanol              Ethanal 

The ethanal is further oxidised to ethanoic acid (i.e. acetic acid) if the oxidising agent is in excess.

	CH3CHO  ==>     CH3COOH 
	Ethanal         Ethanoic Acid   

The oxidising agent usually used for this reaction is a mixture of sodium dichromate or potassium dichromate and sulphuric acid which react together to provide oxygen atoms as follows.

              Na2Cr2O7    +    4 H2SO4 ==>     Na2SO4 + Cr2(SO4)3 + 4H2O + 3[O]        

Dehydration of Ethanol
When ethanol is mixed with concentrated sulphuric acid with the acid in excess and heated to 170 degC, ethylene is formed. (One mole of ethanol loses one mole of water)

                  C2H5OH        ==>             C2H4 + H2O      
		170 degC        

When ethanol is mixed with concentrated sulphuric acid with the alcohol in excess and heated to 140 degC, diethyl ether distils over (two moles of ethanol loses one mole of water) .

	2 C2H5OH        ==>     C2H5OC2H5    +    H2O   
                                      140 deg 

Reaction of Ethanol with Sodium
Sodium reacts with ethanol at room temp to liberate hydrogen. The hydrogen atom of the hydroxyl group is replaced by a sodium atom, forming sodium ethoxide.

                         C2H5OH    +    Na    ==> C2H5ONa    +    (H2(   

Apart from this reaction, ethanol and the other alcohols show no acidic properties.

Dehydrogenation of Ethanol
Ethanol can also be oxidised to ethanal (i.e. acetaldehyde) by passing its vapour over copper heated to 300 degC. Two atoms of hydrogen are eliminated from each molecule to form hydrogen gas and hence this process is termed dehydrogenation.

                      C2H5OH          ==>             CH3CHO    +    H2       
                        Ethanol                              Ethanal 

Esterification of Ethanol
Ethanol, C2H5OH, reacts with organic acids to form esters.

	C2H5OH   +      CH3COOH  ==>    CH3COOC2H5 + H2O        
	Ethanol                Ethanoic                Ethyl              Water        
			Acid                    Acetate 

Halogenation or Substitution of Ethanol with PCl5
Ethanol reacts with phosphorus pentachloride at room temperature to form hydrogen chloride, ethyl chloride (i.e. chloroethane) and phosphoryl chloride.

	C2H5OH  +       PCl5     ==>     C2H5Cl +       POCl3   +       HCl  
	Ethanol         Phosphorus        Ethyl            Phosphorus     Hydrogen
	                    Pentachloride      Chloride       Pentachloride   Chloride 

Halogenation or Substitution of Ethanol with HCl
Ethanol reacts with hydrogen chloride to form ethyl chloride (i.e. chloroethane) and water. A dehydrating agent (e.g. zinc chloride) is used as a catalyst.

	C2H5OH  +       HCl     ==>     C2H5Cl + H2O    
	Ethanol                                    Ethyl   

Uses of Ethanol

Ethanol is used

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