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Part 4. The chemistry of ALCOHOLS

The Uses of Alcohols

Part 4.9 The uses of alcohols and occurrence in biological molecules - biochemistry

Doc Brown's Chemistry Advanced Level Pre-University Chemistry Revision Study Notes suitable for UK KS5 A/AS GCE IB advanced level organic chemistry students US K12 grade 11 grade 12 organic chemistry of the  physical and chemical properties of alcohols and their principal reactions

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All revision notes on the chemistry of alcohols

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Examples of uses of alcohols

I've already written notes on the many uses of alcohols, so below are some links plus a few extra examples.

Use as solvents, fuels and drinks

Ethanol is used as a solvent in aftershaves, cleaning fluids as well as the main ingredient in alcoholic beverages.

Alcohols, Ethanol, manufacture, uses - including use as solvent and the alcoholic drinks industry

Biofuels & alternative fuels, hydrogen, biogas, bioethanol, biodiesel

See also Part 4.3 Physical properties including solubility and intermolecular forces


Aliphatic alcohol esters

Esters, chemistry and uses including perfumes, solvents

See also Part 4.6 Miscellaneous Reactions carboxylic acids to form esters



Methanol is highly toxic and added to 'methylated spirits' (industrial spirits solvent, mainly ethanol) so it is unfit for human consumption, but it isn't taxed!.

Methylated spirits are used for removing paint or ink stains and as a fuel in spirit burners-camping stoves.

Methanol is used as a clean burning fuel and is added to the mainly hydrocarbon fuel of high performance racing cars.

Methanol is an important feedstock for the chemical industry and converted into other useful intermediate compounds like methanal and ethanoic acid, both of which used to manufacture other products from polymers to esters.

Ethanol is used in antibacterial and antiviral hand gels - hand sanitizers, disinfectant sprays,

The occurrence of alcohols in biological molecules - biochemistry

Alcohols are usually encountered as a part of ester molecules e.g. in fruit flavours and fragrances.

See Part 6.8.5

Esters - preparation, reactions including hydrolysis and transesterification, uses

and Part 6.14

More on the uses of carboxylic acids and ester derivatives and occurrence in nature

testoserone molecular structure skeletal formula hydroxy/hydroxyl ketone secondary alcohol functional groups advanced A level organic chemistry doc brownYou find the alcohol group in sex hormones e.g. testosterone (shown on the right).

There are three functional groups in the molecule.

Ketone, alkene and secondary alcohol.


molecular structure cholesterol skeletal formula advanced A level organic chemistry doc brownChemically, cholesterol, which contains the alcohol group –OH is a sterol, a sub–group of organic molecules called steroids (BUT not the body building type of steroid!, more to do with the metabolism of fats!). Cholesterol is an essential steroid–sterol to humans but if too much is produced it can cause heart disease.

The image on the right gives the skeletal formula structure of cholesterol. Also note the 'alkene' double bond functional group to the right of the –OH hydroxy functional group - which is actually a secondary alcohol group.

[Cholesterol image from NIST]

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