There are two main types of ethanol – fermentation and synthetic.

The major outlets for industrial ethanol are as a solvent and in chemical synthesis. Some 60% of US industrial demand goes to solvent applications in pharmaceuticals, toiletries and cosmetics, detergents and household cleaners, coatings and inks and processing solvents.

Ethanol is also used as a chemical intermediate for the manufacture of ethyl acetateethyl acrylateacetic acidglycol ethers and ethylamines, as well as other products. It is also used as an additive to food and beverages.

However, a much larger and growing outlet for ethanol is as a fuel, oxygenate additive to gasoline and a gasoline extender. Globally, fuel ethanol accounts for 73% of production, with beverage ethanol at 17% and industrial ethanol at 10%.

Corn and sugarcane are common feedstocks for fermentation ethanol, along with grain, and sugar beet, while synthetic ethanol’s primary feedstock is ethylene. Fuel grade or bio-ethanol is produced from fermentation ethanol sources. Synthetic ethanol cannot be used for fuel ethanol purposes.

The major outlet of fuel ethanol in Europe is in ethyl tertiary butyl ether (ETBE), and also blending, whereby ethanol is used as a fuel oxygenate additive to gasoline and a gasoline extender.

Another use is direct blending, in which ethanol is directly blended into gasoline. Both uses are set to grow following the introduction of the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) which stipulates that renewable energy should  have a minimum 10% share in transport by 2020.

In the US, 92% of fermentation ethanol is used in fuel applications, with 4% going into food and beverages, and 4% as industrial solvents and chemicals.

In Asia, most ethanol produced and traded is fermentation ethanol. The feedstock varies from sugarcane in India, Thailand and Pakistan to corn and tapioca in China. The biggest downstream application in Asia is industrial chemicals – for production of acetic acid and ethyl acetate and also as a solvent in pharmaceuticals and personal care products. The other use is for beverage industries. Hydrous or industrial ethanol is also known as ‘B-grade’ ethanol, which refers to a second-tier specification grade of Brazilian cane-based hydrous ethanol traded in northeast Asia.

Fuel blending use is increasing in countries like Thailand, China and India. Thailand is the leader in terms of conversion on a large scale to 10% ethanol blended gasoline. Fuel blending applications are the most important sector driving the ethanol production in Asia. Exports from Asia to Europe and the US have also spurred the fuel demand in these regions.

Ethanol was first produced thousands of years ago by fermentation of carbohydrates and in some countries large volumes are still produced by this method. Synthetic ethanol was first produced industrially in the 1930s by indirect catalytic hydration of ethylene.

Ethanol vapour irritates the eyes and respiratory tract. It may cause effects on the central nervous and on the upper respiratory tract, resulting in irritation, headache, fatigue and lack of concentration. Chronic ingestion of ethanol may cause liver cirrhosis. Vapours can travel to a source of ignition and flash back.

ICIS quotes ethanol in EuropeUSAAsia and Latin America.

To find out more Ethanol Methodology July 2013

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