Dehydrated alcohol or anhydrous alcohol/ethanol is a type of alcohol that has less than 1% water content. It is used in applications where water can hamper the process or the reaction. Dehydrated alcohol, also called absolute ethyl alcohol, has low toxicity and fewer impurities and can dissolve non-polar substances. It is mostly used as a solvent in the manufacturing of various medicines and injections, in synthetic organic reactions, and as an antiseptic with iodine to disinfect the skin before injection.
There are several misnomers regarding the word anhydrous. This study covers anhydrous ethyl alcohol, which has zero water content, and alcohols with greater than or equal to 99.5% alcohol content. The manufacturing of dehydrated alcohol with less than 0.5% of water content is almost 20–30% more expensive compared to the manufacturing of hydrous alcohol. Most companies currently employ a cost-effective method of vapor-phase molecular sieving. As vapor is passed into the column, adsorption takes place between the pores and the water, and the end result is dehydrated or anhydrous alcohol. Other manufacturing processes include extractive distillation, the azeotropic distillation of alcohol, or membrane vapor permeation.
Developing economies, such as India, Brazil, and Vietnam, and developed countries have started investing significantly in healthcare. Increasing research funding, development of medical infrastructure, and incentives for pharmaceutical companies provide a platform for dehydrated alcohol companies.
Healthcare spending in the U.S. increased by 4.6% to USD 3.6 trillion in 2018, as per the National Health Expenditure Accounts. As per the OECD, healthcare spending is set to outpace GDP growth to 2030. Healthcare spending per capita is expected to grow to reach 10.2% of GDP in 2030 for OECD countries, which indicates strong growth in healthcare.
Dehydrated alcohol is produced using a number of sources, such as grains, sugar and molasses, corn, and fossil fuel, which undergo different processes for producing dehydrated or anhydrous ethyl alcohol. The U.S. producers of dehydrated alcohol are primarily reliant on corn, which grows in abundance. Many companies also prefer fossil fuels, such as ethylene, to produce ethyl alcohol, which is further distilled to get dehydrated alcohol. Another reason for this is the regulation by the Renewable Fuel Standard, which regulates the amount of ethanol produced from feedstock from plants due to the increasing strain on livestock feed and exports.
China is the world’s largest producer of wheat and produces around 120 million tons every year. Thus, wheat is the primary source of dehydrated alcohol in the country. Brazil, a major producer of ethanol in the world, uses sugarcane as a source for feedstock. As per the USDA, total ethanol production in Brazil is around 30.7 billion liters for 2018.
Dehydrated alcohol is either used as a solvent, cleaner, or a reagent. High alcohol percentage reduces the number of applications, and this type of alcohol is sold mostly to pharmaceutical companies where dehydrated alcohol has a number of uses. The COVID-19 outbreak has severely affected the entire world, and several industries are expected to witness a decline in sales. However, pharmaceutical companies are trying to ramp up production, which can further fuel the dehydrated alcohol market.
Injections: It is a sterile solution of 100% alcohol used in the treatment of therapeutic neurolysis of nerves or ganglia for the relief of intractable chronic pain.
Solvent & Reagent: It is also used in industries as a solvent or reagent in synthetic processes in the production of paints, coatings, and inks. The global paints and coatings market continues to grow despite raw material fluctuations and oil price fluctuations, offering a positive indicator for the dehydrated alcohol market as dehydrated alcohol is used as a solvent in paints.
Liquid Chromatography: Dehydrated alcohol is also used in liquid chromatography, as it has high UV transmittance, low particle count, and low evaporation residue. The global liquid chromatography market is growing substantially as quality control, food component analysis, and environmental analysis have become stringent due to stricter norms.
Fuel Additive: The automobile industry has greatly benefited from the introduction of dehydrated alcohol, which is used as a fuel additive in conventional fuel at rates between 5% and 85%. The use of dehydrated alcohol as a fuel additive greatly reduces pollution and the consumption of petroleum fuels. Dehydrated alcohol also plays the role of an anti-freezing agent in colder climates where there is a risk of freezing of fuel.
Flavor Extraction & Concentration: Dehydrated alcohol is also used in the food and beverage industry as a natural product for the extraction and concentration of certain flavors. Ethanol is also used in the chemical industry as an intermediate in the manufacturing of chemicals, such as ethyl acetate, acetic acid, glycol ethers, ethyl acrylate, and ethylamines.
Others: Anhydrous alcohol also has applications in the manufacturing of perfumes and other personal care products such as deodorants, but most companies prefer less expensive hydrous ethanol as anhydrous alcohol does not remain anhydrous once it comes in contact with moisture.
The U.S., Brazil, Europe, and China are some of the top ethanol producers in the world. Ethanol produced in Brazil is primarily used as a fuel alternative or additive. A majority of it is consumed in Brazil itself as the country has a substantial number of flex-fuel vehicles that can be run on gasoline, ethanol, or gasoline blended with ethanol.
Many companies are trying to decrease their dependence on hydrocarbon feedstock from fossil fuels. They are focusing on sources that are environment-friendly and biodegradable. Researchers from Christ College, Kozhikode, India, have developed an environment-friendly technique to prepare dry ethanol, i.e. dehydrated alcohol, in November 2019. The process is expected to bring down production significantly, providing a fillip to India’s bio-fuel industry.
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