Ethanol is a monohydric primary alcohol. It melts at −117.3°C and boils at 78.5°C. It is miscible (i.e., mixes without separation) with water in all proportions and is separated from water only with difficulty; ethanol that is completely free of water is called absolute ethanol. Ethanol forms a constant-boiling mixture, or azeotrope, with water that contains 95% ethanol and 5% water and that boils at 78.15°C; since the boiling point of this binary azeotrope is below that of pure ethanol, absolute ethanol cannot be obtained by simple distillation. However, if benzene is added to 95% ethanol, a ternary azeotrope of benzene, ethanol, and water, with boiling point 64.9°C, can form; since the proportion of water to ethanol in this azeotrope is greater than that in 95% ethanol, the water can be removed from 95% ethanol by adding benzene and distilling off this azeotrope. Because small amounts of benzene may remain, absolute ethanol prepared by this process is poisonous.
Ethanol burns in air with a blue flame, forming carbon dioxide and water. It reacts with active metals to form the metal ethoxide and hydrogen, e.g., with sodium it forms sodium ethoxide. It reacts with certain acids to form esters, e.g., with acetic acid it forms ethyl acetate. It can be oxidized to form acetic acid and acetaldehyde. It can be dehydrated to form diethyl ether or, at higher temperatures, ethylene.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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