Ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol or alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid with an alcoholic content ranging from 80% - 99.9%, and the molecular formula C2H5OH. Ethanol is also commonly referred to as neutral alcohol or neutral spirit in certain countries. Ethanol produced from processed crops and organic material is referred to as renewable ethanol.
Renewable ethanol is manufactured in a biorefinery by fermenting sugars into alcohol. In the EU, these sugars typically come from a variety of agricultural sources such wheat, corn, barley, rye, triticale, and sugar beets. While the feedstock used to produce renewable ethanol typically varies depending on market conditions, the majority of ethanol biorefineries are built to specifically process either grains or sugar beets. Currently, the most commonly used feedstocks used in Europe are corn, sugar beet and wheat.
Whereas conventional ethanol from agricultural crops is made from grains and sugar crops, advanced ethanol is produced by using agricultural residues such as straw, non-food ligno-cellulosic materials and waste. These materials come from the non-edible parts of crops, typically the stalk. Processing this feedstock requires high tech facilities, pioneering enzyme and yeast extraction technologies as well as highly skilled people.
Once this process is completed, the production steps are similar to those of ethanol from agricultural crops. Ethanol from cellulose has the same chemical characteristic as any other type of ethanol. Ethanol biofuel made from cellulosic, waste or residue material are also commonly known as second-generation ethanol.
Ethanol has many different properties and is used in a wide-range of products such as beverages, biochemicals, bioplastics, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial products (solvents, paint) and, increasingly, as a biofuel.