Chemistry X | Carbon and its Compounds | Properties of Ethanol

Properties of Ethanol

Ethanol is a liquid at room temperature (refer to Table 4.1 for the melting and boiling points of ethanol). Ethanol is commonly called alcohol and is the active ingredient of all alcoholic drinks. In addition, because it is a good solvent, it is also used in medicines such as tincture iodine, cough syrups, and many tonics. Ethanol is also soluble in water in all proportions. Consumption of small quantities of dilute ethanol causes

drunkenness. Even though this practice is condemned, it is a socially widespread practice. However, intake of even a small quantity of pure ethanol (called absolute alcohol) can be lethal. Also, long-term consumption of alcohol leads to many health problems.

Activity 4.6

Teacher’s demonstration –

  1. Drop a small piece of sodium, about the size of a couple of grains of rice, into ethanol (absolute alcohol).
  2. What do you observe?
  3. How will you test the gas evolved?

Reactions of Ethanol

(i) Reaction with sodium –

2Na + 2CH3CH2OH → 2CH3CH2O–Na+ + H2

(Sodium ethoxide)

Alcohols react with sodium leading to the evolution of hydrogen. With ethanol, the other product is sodium ethoxide. Can you recall which other substances produce hydrogen on reacting with metals?

(ii) Reaction to give unsaturated hydrocarbon: Heating ethanol at 443 K with excess concentrated sulphuric acid results in the dehydration of ethanol to give ethene –


The concentrated sulphuric acid can be regarded as a dehydrating agent which removes water from ethanol.

How do alcohols affect living beings?

When large quantities of ethanol are consumed, it tends to slow metabolic processes and to depress the central nervous system. This results in lack of coordination, mental confusion, drowsiness, lowering of the normal inhibitions, and finally stupour. The individual may feel relaxed but does not realise that his sense of judgement, sense of timing, and muscular coordination have been seriously impaired. Unlike ethanol, intake of methanol in very small quantities can cause death. Methanol is oxidised to methanal in the liver. Methanal reacts rapidly with the components of cells. It causes the protoplasm to get coagulated, in much the same way an egg is coagulated by cooking. Methanol also affects the optic nerve, causing blindness. Ethanol is an important industrial solvent. To prevent the misuse of ethanol produced for industrial use, it is made unfit for drinking by adding poisonous substances like methanol to it. Dyes are also added to colour the alcohol blue so that it can be identified easily. This is called denatured alcohol.

Alcohol as a fuel

Sugarcane plants are one of the most efficient convertors of sunlight into chemical energy. Sugarcane juice can be used to prepare molasses which is fermented to give alcohol (ethanol). Some countries now use alcohol as an additive in petrol since it is a cleaner fuel which gives rise to only carbon dioxide and water on burning in sufficient air (oxygen).


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