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Chemistry > Alcohols

The table below shows various types of alcohol, how it is made and common uses.

Type Manufacture Common uses
Methyl (wood alcohol,
By destructive distillation of wood. Also by synthesis from hydrogen and carbon monoxide under high pressure. Solvent for fats, oils, resins, nitrocellulose. Manufacture of dyes, formaldehyde, antifreeze solutions, special fuels, plastics.
Ethyl (grain alcohol,
By fermentation of sugar, starch, or waste sulfite liquor. Synthesis from ethylene or acetylene. Direct hydration of ethylene. Solvent for products such as lacquers, paints, varnishes, glues, pharmaceuticals, explosives. Also as 'building block' in making high-molecular-weight chemicals.
Isopropyl (isopropanol) By hydration of propylene from cracked gases. Also as by-product of certain fermentation processes. Solvent for oils, gums, alkaloids, resins. Making acetone, soap, antiseptic solutions.
Normal propyl As a co-product of air oxidation of propane and butane mixtures. Solvent for lacquers, resins, coatings, films, waxes. Also as brake fluid, in manufacture of propionic acid, plasticizers.
Butyl (n-butanol) By fermentation of starch or sugar. Also by synthesis, using ethyl alcohol or acetylene. Solvent for nitrocellulose, ethyl cellulose, lacquer, urea-formaldehyde, urea-melamine plastics. Diluent of hydraulic fluids, extractant of drugs.
Isobutyl By synthesis from carbon monoxide and hydrogen at high pressure, then distillation from products formed. Solvent for castor-oil-base brake fluids. Substitute for n-butyl alcohol in making urea resins.
Secondary butyl By hydration of 1-butane, formed in petroleum cracking. In making other chemicals such as methyl ethyl ketone. Solvent in nitrocellulose lacquers. Production of brake fluids, special greases.
Tertiary butyl By hydration of isobutylene, derived from petroleum cracking. In perfume making. As wetting agent in detergents. Solvent for drugs and cleaning compounds.
Amyl (pentyl) By fractional distillation of fusel oil, a co-product of ethyl alcohol manufacture by fermentation. Solvent for many natural and synthetic resins. Diluting brake fluids, printing inks, lacquers. In medicinal products.
Ethylene glycol By oxidation of ethylene to glycol. Also by hydrogenation of methyl glycolate made from formaldehyde and methanol. Deicing fluid, antifreeze, brake fluid. In production of explosives. Solvent for stains, oils, resins, enamels, inks, dyes.
Diethylene glycol As co-product in manufacture of ethylene glycol. Solvent for dyes, resins. Anti-leak agent. In gas drying. Softening agent in adhesive printing inks.
Triethylene glycol Co-product in manufacture of ethylene glycol. Air disinfectant and dehumidifier. Production of resins, plasticizers.
Glycerol (glycerin;
1-, 2-, 3-propanetriol)
From treatment of fats in soap making. Synthetically, from propylene. By fermentation. In alkyd resins, explosives, cellophane. Tobacco humectant.
Pentaerythritol By condensation of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. In synthetic resins. As tetranitrate in explosives. Also as drug for treatment of heart disease.
Sorbitol By reduction of sugar, usually corn sugar, with hydrogen. In foods, pharmaceuticals, in chemical manufacture. Conditioning agent in paper, textiles, glue, cosmetics. Source of alcohol in resin manufacture.
Cyclohexanol By catalytic hydrogenation of phenol. By catalytic air oxidation of cyclohexane. Intermediate in making chemicals used in nylon manufacture. Stabilizer and homogenizer of soaps, synthetic detergents. Solvent.
Phenylethyl By synthesis from benzene and ethylene oxide. Principally in perfumes.