Alcohol Uses in Daily Life


We are all familiar with the term “alcohol,” a recreational beverage associated with social activities like celebrations and parties. In chemistry, alcohol represents a class of organic compounds that have at least one hydroxyl group  (-OH) attached to a saturated carbon atom with the general chemical formula {C}_{n}{H}_{2n+1}{OH}. For instance, the alcohol used for recreation purposes is ethyl alcohol with the chemical formula {C}_{2}{H}_{5}{OH}. The number of carbon atoms attached to the carbon atom with the hydroxyl group classifies alcohols as primary, secondary, or tertiary. Like water, alcohols are polar, containing an unsymmetrical distribution of charge between the oxygen and hydrogen atoms. The presence of an oxygen atom allows alcohols to form hydrogen bonds with other -OH groups, hydrogen atoms, and other molecules. Alcohols are of central importance in organic chemistry because of their ability to react with other compounds. In fact, several alcohols are used as starting compounds for various items that we use in our daily life. Let’s take a look at few examples where we can use alcohol in our daily life.

Uses of Alcohols

1. Methanol Uses


Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, is the simplest alcohol with the chemical formula {CH}_{3}{OH}. It is a volatile, colorless, and flammable liquid with an odor similar to that of ethanol. The original method of methanol production was the destructive distillation of wood, which acquired methanol its common name, wood alcohol. Today, methanol is industrially produced by hydrogenation of carbon monoxide. Although methane is primarily used as a feedstock chemical for the synthesis of other chemical compounds, it can also be used as a fuel in several internal combustion engines. The chemical equation for the burning of methanol is given by:

{2CH}_{3}{OH} + {3O}_{2} → {2CO}_{2} + {4H}_{2}{O}

Methanol is not ideally used as fuel because of its reactivity with metal that can cause corrosion to the engine. Nonetheless, with slight modifications to the engine, methanol acts as an excellent alternative fuel in the marine industry as it helps the environment by significantly reducing the emissions of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter into the atmosphere. Methanol is also used as a denaturant to discourage the abuse of ethanol for recreational purposes. Governments around the world have their own set of rules and regulations for the permitted and licensed sale of denatured alcohol. Another daily life use of methanol is as a solvent and as an antifreeze in pipelines and windshield washer fluids.

2. Ethanol Uses

Ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, is an organic compound with the chemical formula {C}_{2}{H}_{5}{OH}. It is prominently known for its use as a recreational beverage. Nonetheless, there are several other applications of ethanol that we may encounter in our daily life. Ethanol is extensively used in the manufacturing of sanitizers and disinfectants because of its antiseptic properties. It kills harmful microorganisms by dissolving their membrane lipid bilayer and denaturing their proteins. Furthermore, it is also used as a solvent in the pharmaceutical industry to dissolve the medications that are often insoluble in water. For example, ethanol is used as a solvent for some analgesics and mouthwashes. It is also used as an antitoxin in the case of ethylene glycol poisoning and methanol poisoning. Ethanol is also used as a feedstock chemical in several industrial processes such as ether and perfume manufacturing. Ethanol has also proved to be an excellent fuel additive. Typically, a mixture called E10, made up of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline, is used to oxygenate the fuel and reduce air pollution.

3. Isopropyl Alcohol Uses

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Isopropyl alcohol, also known as isopropanol or propan-2-ol (IUPAC name), is a colorless and flammable secondary alcohol with a very strong odor and chemical formula {CH}_{3}{CHOH}{CH}_{3}. Isopropyl alcohol has several biomedical applications due to its low toxicity in comparison to other alcohols. For instance, the antibacterial and antifungal properties of isopropyl alcohol make it a preferable choice in the manufacturing of hand sanitizers and wet wipes. It is also an effective cleaning agent for glasses and electronic components such as CDs, DVDs, and contact pins in ROM cartridges. Moreover, it is used as a paint thinner in flexography, lithography, and as an equipment cleaner in other printing processes. One of its early uses also includes being used as oral anesthesia; however, it is now prohibited due to many negative attributes or drawbacks. Isopropyl alcohol is also used in the automotive industry for cleaning the traces of contaminated brake oil from hydraulic braking systems.

4. Ethylene Glycol Uses


Ethylene Glycol (IUPAC name: ethane-1,2-diol) is an odorless and colorless liquid organic compound with the chemical formula ({CH}_{2}{OH})_{2}. It is the chemical that protects your car’s engine from freezing in the winter and acts as a coolant to reduce overheating in the summer. A solution of ethylene glycol and water boils at 129 °C (264.2 °F) and freezes at −37 °C (−34.6 °F), serving as an excellent coolant in automotive radiators. Other important uses of ethylene glycol include the manufacturing of heat transfer fluids used as industrial coolants for gas compressors, heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, and ice skating rinks.

5. Glycerol Uses


Glycerol, also known as glycerine or propan-1,2,3-triol, is an organic compound containing three hydroxyl groups attached to a carbon chain, with the chemical formula {C}_{3}{H}_{8}{O}_{3}. Glycerol has several applications in the food, pharmaceutical, medical, and personal care industries. For instance, glycerol is used as a humectant (a hygroscopic substance used to keep things moist), solvent, and chemical sweetener in the foods and beverages industry. It’s also used as a thickening agent in liqueurs and as a filler in commercially processed low-fat foods. Glycerol is also used in the manufacturing of several personal care products, such as skincare products, shaving cream, hair care products, and glycerin soaps. For general use, glycerol is sold by the name Glycerin in the market, which is an FDA-approved wound medication that is mildly antimicrobial and antiviral. As a result, it’s commonly used in wound care products, such as glycerin-based hydrogel sheets for burns and other wounds. Glycerol is used to produce nitroglycerin, or glyceryl trinitrate (GTN), which is an essential ingredient of smokeless gunpowder and various explosives such as dynamite, gelignite, and propellants like cordite.

6. Phenol Uses

Phenol, also called carbolic acid, is a white-colored crystalline aromatic compound with the molecular formula {C}_{6}{H}_{5}{OH}. Pure phenol is used in certain medical procedures and as an ingredient in numerous treatments and laboratory applications. While toxic to consume on its own, it’s available in tiny doses in many household products like mouthwash and spray cleaners. Due to its inexpensive nature, phenol has found several applications outside the chemistry labs. When mixed with reagents, phenol can be an effective disinfectant for toilets, stables, floors, and drains. Phenol is a major component of phenolic adhesives used in wood products like plywood and oriented strand board.

7. Butanol Uses

Butanol Structures

Butanol, also known as butyl alcohol, is an organic compound with the chemical formula {C}_{4}{H}_{9}{OH}, which occurs in four isomeric structures, including primary, secondary, tertiary, and iso-butyl alcohol. It is produced directly from the fermentation of starch, sugar, sugar cane juice, molasses, and hemicellulose. It is primarily employed as a solvent for paints, lacquers, and varnishes, In the food and beverage industry, butanol is commonly used to dissolve natural and synthetic resins, gums, vegetable oils, dyes, and alkaloids. It is also used as an intermediate in the manufacture of artificial leather, textiles, safety glass, rubber cement, shellac, raincoats, photographic films, and perfumes. Butanol is also a potential biofuel. Specifically, butanol, at an 85 percent concentration, can be effectively used in gasoline (petrol) cars without any engine modifications.

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