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What is the difference between ethanol and methanol?

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Quick Answer

Ethanol is a substance that is created from the fermentation of food crops in factories, while methanol is a highly poisonous chemical produced synthetically. Both substances are variants of alcohol that can be used as energy sources, but have different methods of production and practical uses.

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Full Answer

Ethanol is a colorless liquid usually created from corn or sugarcane, and is a primary ingredient in alcoholic beverages. Once ingested, it causes intoxication and drowsiness. It is also used as an alternative fuel source: Some cars are designed to run on up to 85 percent ethanol. Its use as a fuel source is hotly debated, due to the sheer amount of corn that must be used in its production instead of as a source of food. In addition to alcoholic beverages and alternative fuel, ethanol is found in a multitude of household products, including antibacterial hand gels, rubbing alcohol and paint.

In contrast to ethanol, methanol is highly poisonous to humans, even in small amounts. Less than half a teaspoon of methanol can cause blindness. The primary use of methanol is in the formulation of chemicals like formaldehyde. It is less flammable than gasoline and can be put out with water, making it ideal for use in race cars and stunt cars.

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