Structure of ethanol

Ethanol molecules contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

Table showing the formula and chemical structure of ethanol.

Fermentation

Ethanol can be made by a process called fermentation. During fermentation, sugar (glucose) from plant material is converted into ethanol and carbon dioxide. This typically takes place at temperatures of around 30°C.

The enzymes found in single-celled fungi (yeast) are the natural catalysts that can make this process happen:

C6H12O6 \xrightarrow {enzymes~in~yeast} 2C2H5OH + 2CO2

Unlike ethene, sugar from plant material is a renewable resource. 90 per cent of the world’s ethanol is made using fermentation.

Alcoholic drinks

Ethanol is the best known alcohol, as it is present in all alcoholic drinks. Humans have been drinking alcohol for thousands of years, but now alcohol consumption is becoming a bigger problem than ever simply because it is so easily available.

Here are some facts about alcoholic drinks:

Health

  • Alcohol is a direct cause of around 10 per cent of diseases and deaths in the UK. The diseases directly linked to alcohol abuse include a number of different cancers, high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver and depression.
  • The number of deaths directly linked to alcohol in the UK is close to 9,000 each year.
  • It is the third most dangerous lifestyle factor, after smoking and obesity.

Economic

  • Alcohol misuse in the UK is estimated to cost over £21 billion per year as a result of healthcare costs, police costs and lost productivity due to missing work.
  • The export of alcoholic drinks contributes just over £6 billion to the annual UK economy.
  • The drinks industry in the UK employs around 650,000 people directly, and supports over 1 million more jobs in the wider economy.
  • Tax on alcoholic drink sales brings in around £10 billion to the UK Treasury every year.

Social

  • Around 20 per cent of all reports of violence take place in close proximity to a pub or club.
  • The estimated annual cost of alcohol-related crimes in the UK is approximately £8bn to £13bn.

Uses of ethanol

Ethanol has other uses besides alcoholic drinks. It is:

  • an extremely good solvent
  • the active ingredient in anti-bacterial hand cleansers, that do not require water
  • used as a fuel