From Formula to Function: Unlocking Isopropyl Alcohol's Production and Versatile Uses
From Formula to Function: Unlocking Isopropyl Alcohol's Production and Versatile Uses
Isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, is quietly waiting on your bathroom shelf. However, this plain liquid is a strong one! This blog takes us to the unexpected world of isopropyl alcohol, which is used not only for wiping surfaces but also for other purposes.

From Formula to Function: Unlocking Isopropyl Alcohol's Production and Versatile Uses

Isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, is quietly waiting on your bathroom shelf. However, this plain liquid is a strong one! This blog takes us to the unexpected world of isopropyl alcohol, which is used not only for wiping surfaces but also for other purposes. We will show its superhero cleaning powers, from disinfecting cuts to cleaning tough grime on electronics. However, the isopropyl alcohol's abilities are not limited to the home. We will discuss its industrial uses, ranging from being the main component of windshield washer fluid to its function in the scientific world.

Be prepared to see isopropyl alcohol in a completely different way! This blog will answer your burning questions: How is it manufactured? What are the ways I can use it safely and effectively? Come with us as we recognize the unsung hero of cleaning and learn about the many ways isopropyl alcohol makes our lives easier.


Isopropyl alcohol, also known as IPA or 2-propanol, serves as a prevalent solvent, reagent, and disinfectant. It possesses flammability and emits a distinct odor reminiscent of ethanol, albeit stronger. Isopropyl alcohol, the familiar liquid in blue bottles on bathroom shelves, is much more than meets the eye. This colorless liquid boasts a surprising number of properties:

• Volatility: It evaporates quickly, making it ideal for cleaning surfaces that need to dry fast.

• Odor: While not unpleasant, it has a distinct, sharp scent similar to rubbing alcohol.

• Flammability: Be cautious! With a flash point of 53°F, it can easily ignite near sparks or flames.

• Density: A gallon weighs about 6.5 pounds, making it lighter than water. But isopropyl alcohol's true strength lies in its versatility. Beyond its use as a disinfectant (often sold in a 70% water solution as rubbing alcohol), it's a key ingredient in a wide range of products:

• Personal Care: Look for it in cosmetics, skin and hair products, and even perfumes.

• Household Products: It's a common component in lacquers, dyes, antifreeze, soaps, and even window cleaners.

• Pharmaceuticals: Isopropyl alcohol plays a role in the production of various medications.

• Industry: Its ability to dissolve and clean makes it valuable in industrial processes.

• Isopropyl alcohol is a true multi-tasker, a testament to the power of seemingly simple chemicals.

Manufacturing Process

Isopropyl alcohol can be synthesized through three distinct methods: indirect hydration of propylene, direct hydration of propylene, and catalytic hydrogenation of acetone. In history, only the indirect hydration method, also known as the sulfuric-acid process, was employed globally for isopropanol production until the advent of the first commercial direct-hydration process. Each approach carries its own set of advantages and drawbacks. For instance, direct hydration is less corrosive compared to sulfuric acid-mediated indirect hydration. Nonetheless, the direct method necessitates a pure propylene feed, unlike the indirect process, which accommodates a diluted refinery stream.

In the indirect-hydration technique, propylene undergoes reaction with sulfuric acid to yield mono- and diisopropyl sulfates, subsequently hydrolyzed into isopropanol. The two-step strong-acid process entails separate reactors for propylene absorption and sulfate ester hydrolysis phases. This reaction transpires at elevated sulfuric acid concentrations (>80% wt) and low temperatures (e.g., 20–30 °C). Conversely, the weak-acid process operates in a single step at lower acid concentrations (60–80% wt) and higher temperatures (60–65 °C).

Catalytic Hydrogenation of Acetone

This process consists of two primary segments:

(1) The Reaction

(2) The Purification Stage


• Compressed hydrogen, along with liquid acetone, is directed into the upper section of a circulating reactor. The circulating mixture traverses a gas-liquid separation unit. A fraction of the liquid undergoes cooling to dissipate the heat generated by the exothermic reaction and is then recycled back into the reactor.

• The remaining portion is further cooled and directed to a secondary reactor, succeeding a subsequent vapor-liquid separation phase. The liquid fraction obtained post the second vapor-liquid separation is conveyed to the purification phase. Meanwhile, the vapor fraction merges with the vapors from the initial gas-liquid separation and is likewise channeled towards purification.

Purification Stage

• During the purification phase, the vapors produced in the reaction are directed to a condenser to recover isopropanol and acetone. The majority of the uncondensed vapors are recycled to the hydrogen compressors.

• The residual portion of the hydrogen-rich gaseous stream, along with the condensate from the condenser and the liquid product from the reaction, are transferred to a deaeration tank to eliminate any gases dissolved in the crude liquid product.

• Subsequently, the crude product undergoes dehydration using molecular sieves and is then introduced into a purification column. Purified isopropanol product is extracted as a side stream from the column, while low-boiling components are separated as the overheads product, and high-boiling impurities are collected as the bottoms product.

Applications of Isopropyl Alcohol

1. Disinfectant: Isopropyl alcohol is the best at getting rid of germs because it can break their cell membranes. This destroys the essential functions and kills a large number of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. In healthcare settings, it is widely used to disinfect surfaces, medical equipment, and also injections sites. At home, rubbing alcohol is a common choice for cleaning countertops, doorknobs, and other surfaces that are often touched. Nevertheless, it is necessary to mention that isopropyl alcohol is not good at killing bacterial spores, which are a dormant and very resistant form of bacteria.

2. Solvent: The fact that isopropyl alcohol can dissolve many substances makes it a useful cleaning and industrial tool. Here are some examples:

• Electronics Cleaning: It successfully eliminates dust, grime, and light oil residue from keyboards, screens, and other electronic components without harming the delicate parts.

• Adhesive Removal: Gone labels or unwanted residue? Isopropyl alcohol is capable of dissolving many adhesives, thus, the removal of them becomes easier.

• Paint Thinning: It can be employed to reduce the thickness of oil-based paints, thus, the application becomes smoother, and the drying time is faster.

3. Antiseptic: Isopropyl alcohol is useful for cleaning minor cuts, scrapes, and abrasions. Through the elimination of the germs on the skin's surface, it prevents infection and promotes healing. Nevertheless, it is crucial to use a concentration between 70% and 90% for the best results. The lower concentrations may not be powerful enough to kill all the germs, while the higher concentrations can irritate the skin.

4. Chemical: Isopropyl alcohol is a major factor in the manufacturing of different chemicals like Acetone.

Market Outlook

The market drivers for Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) are its wide-ranging applications in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, personal care, and electronics manufacturing industries. Besides, the growing need for IPA as a solvent, disinfectant, and cleaning agent, especially in healthcare facilities, has been a major factor. Moreover, the increasing tendency to use the eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives to the traditional solvents has resulted in the research of the bio-based IPA production methods, thus, the innovation and investment in the market have been encouraged. Besides, IPA's function in the manufacturing of sanitizers, disinfectants, and medical supplies is still a significant factor, especially in the period of increasing hygiene awareness.

Isopropyl Alcohol Major Global Players

Largest players in the Global Isopropyl Alcohol market are Sasol Germany, Dow Chemicals, Exxon Mobil, Deepak Fertilizers and Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd., Yangcheng Super chemicals, Jiande Xinhua Chemical, Kellin Chemical, Shell Eastern Petroleum Pte Ltd, JX Nippon Oil and Energy, Tasco Chemicals, Seqens, LCY Chemicals, BP, Shell Nederland Chemie BV, and Others.


In conclusion, Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) market is certain to grow in the forecast period of 2024-2034 owing to its rising usage in the downstream industries. Driven by a growing global population and evolving consumer preferences for hygiene-focused products in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and electronics, the Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) industry is experiencing significant growth across the globe. To sum up, Isopropyl Alcohol is an unexpectedly useful substance that has many different uses that go beyond the medicine cabinet. From the cleaning of surfaces and electronics to the usage as a main component of daily products and even the involvement in industrial processes, IPA's effect is unquestionable. The global population is increasing, and consumer preferences are changing towards hygiene, thus, the IPA market is likely to experience more expansion.

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