Alkanes and alcohols

Students should be familiar with the fact that chemists group organic compounds together into different families with similar properties, in the same way that they use the periodic table to group elements with similar properties together. Students will have already been introduced to the chemistry of alkanes and alkenes.

Alcohols are another ‘family’ of organic compounds, with ethanol being the best known member of the group. Structurally, they are like alkanes but one of the H’s is replaced with an –OH group. They have some similar properties to alkanes, e.g. they burn, giving carbon dioxide and water. Students will know that alcohols are flammable but may not have considered the use of alcohols as a fuels.

Students need to be able to compare and contrast the different methods for the production of ethanol: by fermentation, from biomass or synthesised from ethene. There are a number of discussion points which can be raised with students. For example, the fact that fermentation can be done with very simple technology, allowing people in the developing world to produce ethanol from crops.

Students should be able to consider and evaluate the cost, yield and concentration of alcohol production using the different methods.

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