Ethanol: its Utilities in Medical Industry and as a Fuel

February 2021

Ethanol, otherwise known as drinking alcohol or spirit or ethyl alcohol is an organic chemical compound with the formula C2H6O. It can be easily distinguished by a flammable, colorless, and volatile liquid with a characteristic smell like Methanol.

Generally, ethanol can be naturally produced from sugar by fermentation or by some petrochemical process like ethylene hydration. Ethanol has a variety of medical utilities. It can be applied as a disinfectant or an antiseptic. Along with that, it is used as an alternative fuel source. Ethanol also works as a great chemical solvent in the synthesis of organic compounds.

Various uses of Ethanol

For most industrial uses, ethanol-water produced during the brewing process is purified by fractional distillation at atmospheric pressure. Then the addition of an entertaining object like benzene, heptane, or cyclohexane and boiling at low-temperature yields water-free ethanol. Here are few more uses of ethanol:

  • Antiseptic: Ethanol is used in medical wipes and for other medical purposes due to its antiseptic property. The most prominent use of Ethanol as an antiseptic can be seen in hand sanitizers due to the bactericidal and anti-fungal properties. Ethanol kills microorganisms and is effective against most bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

  • Antidote: Ethanol works wonders as an antidote and can be administered against methanol poisoning and ethylene glycol poisoning.

  • Medicinal Solvent: When taken in higher concentrations, Ethanol can be used to dissolve many medications and other compounds that are otherwise insoluble in water. It is present in numerous liquid preparations of medicine as an antimicrobial preservative.

  • Pharmacology: Ethanol can be easily metabolized by the liver when taken orally.

  • Recreational purposes: Being a central nervous system depressant, ethanol is a commonly consumed psychoactive drug.

  • Fuel: The largest use of Ethanol can be found as engine fuel and fuel additive. Due to its lightweight, Ethanol is used as rocket fuel and in lightweight rocket-powered racing aircraft. 

  • Household heating: Ethanol fireplaces are gaining popularity for decoration and heating homes.

  • Feedstock: It has an important use as a precursor for many other organic compounds like ethyl esters, acetic acid, and ethyl amines. Hence, Ethanol has become a very important industrial ingredient.

  • Solvent: It is a universal solvent, and due to the molecular structure of Ethanol, it can dissolve both non-polar hydrophobic compounds and polar hydrophilic compounds. It is a common ingredient in paints, markers, and various hygiene products such as perfumes and mouthwashes.

  • Low-temperature liquid: Ethanol is used in laboratories as a cooling bath with other coolants like dry ice to keep vessels below the freezing point of water due to its low freezing point.


Although pure ethanol irritates the skin and eyes, along with nausea and vomiting, when reduced to impure forms, Ethanol is a great chemical compound. Ethanol also has a variety of uses in the pharmaceutical Industry. This is because it is considered to be effective against a large spectrum of microorganisms that can linger on the skin.

However, this is the reason why ethanol is widely used for making hand sanitizers in health care settings and other areas involving hand hygiene, and as antiseptic agents.

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