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Maurie's Chemistry Lesson


blog"Wine is sunlight, held together by water“. Galileo, 1564-1642

Even Galileo Galilei did not know how close a biochemical description that really is. Since he proceeded biochemistry by centuries how could he? The photosynthesis and fermentation / combustion of ethanol present an almost perfect balance with chemistry of photosynthesis. It presents an exquisite equilibrium. Sunlight, water and oxygen combine to create simple sugars which under the right conditions can feed tiny yeast microbes to create ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide.

During photosynthesis energy from sunlight is used in a chemical reaction where plants convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar (glucose) and oxygen.

Ethanol Frmentation:

glucose → ethanol + carbon dioxide
C6H12O6 → 2C2H6O + 2CO2

During combustion ethanol reacts with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide, water, and heat: (Note: It is true that other air pollutants are also produced when ethanol is burned in the atmosphere rather than in pure oxygen.)

ethanol + oxygen → carbon dioxide + water
C2H6O + 3O2 → 2CO2 + 3H2O

Together, these two equations add up to the following:

C6H12O6 + 6O2 → 2CO2 + 4CO2 + 6H2O + heat

This is the reverse of the photosynthesis reaction where plants produce the following:

Carbon dioxide + water + light → Glucose and oxygen.
6CO2 + 6H2O + light → C6H12O6 + 6O2

which shows that the reactions cancel each other out only converting light into heat without leaving any byproducts, and existing in an exquisite and wondrous symmetry.

Of course I am predisposed to the notion that perhaps ethanol is better for consumption than combustion.