How It’s Made:
The Ethyl Alcohol in Your Hand Sanitizer
It’s been a long and complicated journey for Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, found in your hand sanitizer. The journey sometimes begins with fossil fuels or, in our case, with plants. In fact, any vegetable matter containing sugar can be converted to ethanol.
Ethanol in fermented foods and beverages has been in our food chain for centuries.
Besides tasting good in wines and liquors, ethanol is also a renewable fuel made from various plant materials, collectively known as “biomass.” More than 98% of U.S. gasoline contains ethanol, typically E10 (10% ethanol, 90% gasoline), to oxygenate the fuel, which reduces air pollution.
Starch- and Sugar-Based Ethanol Feedstocks
Today, nearly all ethanol produced in the world is derived from starch- and sugar-based feedstocks. The sugars in these feedstocks are easy to extract and ferment, making large-scale ethanol production affordable. Corn is the leading U.S. crop and serves as the feedstock for most domestic ethanol production. Corn ethanol is limited to 15 billion gallons to ensure there is enough to supply livestock feed, human food, and export markets. In other countries, such as Brazil and India, sugar cane is the main feedstock.