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Ethanol Production

By Fermentation

Fermentation is the anaerobic breakdown of sugars in high-carbohydrate
foods (fruits and grains) into alcohol by the action of yeasts. Yeasts are unicellular
fungi which contain a variety of enzymes responsible for carrying out metabolic
reactions. In the production of alcoholic drinks, yeast acts on glucose or sucrose
in the absence of air to produce CO2 and ethanol.
Steps Involved in the Fermentation of Sucrose
1) Yeast secretes the enzymes invertase which catalyses
the hydrolysis of sucrose to glucose and fructose.

C12H22O11(aq) + H2O(l)
C6H12O6(aq) + C6H12O6(aq)
2) These simple sugars are anaerobically converted to
carbon dioxide and ethanol by zymase, which is also
produced by the yeast.

2C2H5OH(aq) + 2CO2(g)
3) The process stops naturally as the yeast dies when
1. Fermentation occurs in a fermentation vat. The vats are sterilised to ensure
that there are no undesirable yeast/fungi/bacteria present which could affect
the quality of the product. N.B. bacteria oxidises ethanol to ethanoic acid. The
type of yeast used determines the flavour and colour so if undesirable yeasts
are present, the quality and consistency of the product will be affected.

2. The substrate for the fermentation is usually treated with SO 2 which acts as a
sterilising agent.
3. The fermentation vessels are sealed to prevent air (which would oxidise ethanol
to ethanoic acid) and bacteria/fungi (which would cause unwanted side
reactions) from entering.

4. The temperature and pH depend on the species of yeast used and in most
cases, the vessels need to be cooled since it is an exothermic process.
5. Too low a temperature will cause the enzymes to work too slowly and increases
the possibility of unwanted bacterial fermentation. Too high a temperature will
alter the cell structure of the yeast and proteins will have the incorrect
structure to catalyse the reaction. At higher temperatures, the proteins will
become denatured.
6. There are other substances added to the fermentation mixture, e.g. vitamins,
minerals, extra sugar (for sweetness), acids (to enhance flavour), enzymes (to
achieve consistent quality papain for clarity).
7. The length of time for fermentation varies depending on the product longer
times yield drier wines and shorter times yield sweeter wines.

There is a limit to the amount of alcohol that can be produced by
fermentation. This is because when the alcohol content rises above 15%, it will
kill the yeast. The density at a particular temperature can be used to determine
the percentage of ethanol. During fermentation, the alcohol content is monitored
by measuring the specific gravity (a measure of density). If a higher alcoholic
content is desired, there are 2 options:
Add more ethanol this produces a fortified beverage, e.g. sherry is a
fortified wine;

Distillation this produces a spirit which is typically 30-40% ethanol,

e.g. rum, whiskey, vodka, brandy. N.B. cider, beer and wine are not
Increasing the alcohol content to above 15% also increases the shelf life of the

Uses of Ethanol
It is a commonly used solvent in the perfume industry because it can dissolve
both polar and non-polar substances, e.g. nail polishes and perfumes;
It is used as an antiseptic, e.g. in medical wipes and antibacterial hand gels;
The main use of ethanol is as a fuel or fuel additive for vehicles because it is a
clean source of energy.