Ethanol is one of the most abundant and renewable organic compounds widely used in industries and research. It is produced by fermentation of sugars by yeast. Ethanol has become an important green fuel alternative due to the increasing concerns over fossil fuel depletion and environmental pollution. While ethanol fuel has gained wide popularity, ethanol also serves as an important raw material to produce various valuable derivatives through chemical reactions. These ethanol derivatives have a wide range of applications and are considered environment-friendly or “green” chemicals. In this article, we will discuss some important ethanol derivatives, their production methods and applications.
Ethyl Acetate – The most widely produced ester
Ethyl acetate is the simplest ester of ethanol and the most abundant and commercially important ethanol derivative. It is produced industrially by Fischer esterification, where ethanol reacts with acetic acid in the presence of an acid catalyst.
CH3COOH + C2H5OH ⇌ CH3COOCH2CH3 + H2O
Ethyl acetate has a pleasant Ethanol Derivatives fruity smell and is used as a solvent in paints, coatings and cleaning products. It is used as a natural flavoring agent in food products like ice creams and as a solvent in nail polish removers. Pharmaceutical industry uses it as a solvent for coating tablets and medicinal preparations. Other uses include applications in perfumes, inks and adhesives. Global production of ethyl acetate is over 3 million tons annually owing to its versatility and relatively low toxicity.
Ethylene Glycol – An important antifreeze agent
C2H4O + H2O → HOCH2CH2OH
It is mainly used as an antifreeze agent in automotive coolants and also finds applications as a hydraulic brake fluid, heat transfer fluid and deicing fluid for aircrafts. Ethylene glycol has a higher boiling point than water and low freezing point, allowing it to transfer heat efficiently without boiling or freezing even at sub-zero temperatures. It is also used in polyester fiber and resins manufacturing. With over 6 million tons of annual production, it is one of the top organic chemicals globally due to its indispensable role as an antifreeze agent.
Ethyl Propanoate – A preferred solvent for fragrances
Ethyl propanoate is the ester formed from ethanol and propanoic acid. It has a sweet and fruity smell resembling apples. It is produced by esterification of ethanol and propanoic acid using acid catalysts.
CH3CH2COOH + C2H5OH ⇌ CH3CH2COOCH2CH3 + H2O
Being a volatile compound with pleasant aroma, ethyl propanoate finds many applications as a flavoring and fragrance agent. It is widely used for giving apple and banana flavors to foods, beverages, candies and oral care products. Due to its safety, low toxicity and apple-like scent, it is also used as a main constituent in many perfumes and fragrances. Its delightful odor and volatility make it a preferred solvent for fragrances.
Ethanolamines – Versatile intermediates for other derivatives
Ethanolamines refer to a class of compounds containing both hydroxyl and amino functional groups derived from ethanol. The three major ethanolamines produced industrially are monoethanolamine (MEA), diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA). They are synthesized by reaction of ethylene oxide with ammonia or ethylene chlorohydrin with sodium hydroxide.
MEA: NH3 + C2H4O → NH2CH2CH2OH
DEA: NH3 + 2C2H4O → NH(CH2CH2OH)2
TEA: NH3 + 3C2H4O → N(CH2CH2OH)3
Ethanolamines serve as versatile intermediates for production of other derivatives. MEA is mainly used to scrub acid gases like CO2 and H2S in petrochemical refineries. DEA and TEA find uses as emulsifiers, thickeners, solvents, corrosion inhibitors and pH adjusters in various industries. They also act as precursors in manufacture of surfactants, polymers, pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. Global ethanolamine production exceeds 5 million tons annually.
Ethanol being a sustainable and renewable platform chemical serves as an important starting material for producing valuable industrial derivatives through relatively simple chemical reactions. Ethanol derivatives discussed above like ethyl acetate, ethylene glycol, ethyl propanoate and ethanolamines have found wide array of applications across industries due to their useful properties. With increasing global emphasis on green chemistry and sustainability, ethanol derivatives are expected to gain more prominence in the chemicals industry in future. Continuous research is being carried out to develop newer ethanol-based products and production methods to replace non-renewable petrochemical intermediates.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it