8.1 Introduction to Ethanol

USP grade ethanol for laboratory use

USP grade ethanol for laboratory use (Photo Credit: Public Domain)

When plants decompose under the right conditions, they go through a chemical reaction called fermentation. One of the main products of this process is ethanol (C2H5OH, shown at left), which is an organic chemical that can be used as fuel, either by burning it like gasoline or through reduction/oxidation reaction in a fuel cell.

Ethanol is a natural product of yeast, the tiny cells that make bread rise and produce the alcohol in alcoholic beverages. In fact, what we call alcohol in all alcoholic beverages is just ethanol called by a more familiar name, in the same way that we usually just call sodium chloride “salt.” And just like there are other chemicals called salts (like calcium carbonate or magnesium sulfate), there are other chemicals called alcohols, which all have an OH group in their structure and a name that ends in “-ol” such as methanol or butanol.



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