What is ethanol?

Ethanol is often referred to as ‘ethyl alcohol’ or simply ‘alcohol’. According to the Oxford English DictionaryEthyl is a contraction of the Ancient Greek αἰθήρ (aithḗr, “upper air”) and the Greek word ὕλη (hýlē, “substance”). 
Ethanol is naturally produced by the fermentation of sugar and starch crops (e.g. sugar cane, sugar beet, maize, wheat, rye, potatoes, etc) by yeasts or via petrochemical or fossil feedstock (i.e. oil derivatives, coal). 

Markets and applications

There are two  markets for ethanol in Europe – Biofuels uses (over 70% of EU production) and Industrial uses. The main difference is that Industrial ethanol requires additional distillation and purification steps bringing the quality to the high standards of industrial users. Industrial applications include important and strategic industries such as:

Pharmaceutical manufacture

Hand Sanitizers and surface disinfectants

Cosmetics and toiletries

Detergents and cleaning products



Printing inks

Paints and coatings

Screenwash and deicers for the automotive industry

Production of important chemical intermediates, such as for polymers and plastics

Vinegar Manufacture

Flavors manufacture

These, and other downstream industries depend upon industrial ethanol to ensure safety, comfort, and convenience to consumers’ everyday lives.

Industrial ethanol can be made from fermentation of agricultural raw material or from hydration of ethylene, the latter being then used exclusively for non human consumption applications.

Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development concerns wealth generation, social harmony and environmental protection. Its most widely accepted definition is ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

European industrial ethanol is important because it helps to ensure security of supplies for vital downstream user industries, and can be manufactured using a variety of raw material feedstocks.