Ethanol is the alcohol of beer, wines, and liquors. It can be prepared by the fermentation of sugar (e.g., from molasses), which requires an enzyme catalyst that is present in yeast; or it can be prepared by the fermentation of starch (e.g., from corn, rice, rye, or potatoes), which requires, in addition to the yeast enzyme, an enzyme present in an extract of malt. The concentration of ethanol obtained by fermentation is limited to about 10% (20 proof) since at higher concentrations ethanol inhibits the catalytic effect of the yeast enzyme. (The proof concentration of an alcoholic beverage is numerically double the percentage concentration.) For nonbeverage uses ethanol is more commonly prepared by passing ethylene gas at high pressure into concentrated sulfuric or phosphoric acid to form the corresponding ester; the acid-ester mixture is diluted with water and heated, forming ethanol by hydrolysis, and the alcohol is then removed from the mixture by distillation, usually with steam.
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