Ethanol-based products represent the absolute majority of the Swedish market for hand disinfection.
Ethanol’s more natural use has traditionally been as a car fuel. Ethanol-powered cars use the high energy and explosive properties of ethanol to propel the vehicle forward. So, in theory, if you get sick on an ethanol-powered car, you can get to the next gas station by pouring your hand sanitizer into the tank. A pocket-sized spare canister.
The world’s largest ethanol producer, POET, switched from manufacturing to vehicle fuel during the pandemic and now produces ethanol for hand disinfection.
But is it reasonable to use a vehicle fuel and solvent on our hands that has the properties of being highly flammable, explosive, volatile, pungent, smelly and where there is a need to add other substances (glycerine) so that it does not feel as dissolving as it actually is? The antibacterial effect of alcohol is due to the fact that it is a solvent, so if the % of ethanol is too low, the effect is not strong enough.
So we have a problem, the product needs to be dangerous to work.
From a sustainability perspective, ethanol is one of the most unsustainable things imaginable.
Long manufacturing process, energy-intensive distillation, regulated heavy transportation, fireproof storage, damaging the skin that needs to be lubricated with skin cream or materials such as flooring that need to be treated or replaced, packaged in dangerous goods approved packaging, handled as hazardous waste when finished or destroyed when the expiry date has passed. All associated with high CO2 emissions.
This whole life cycle of the product provides an approximately 20-30s long effect on the skin before the ethanol evaporates. Instead, we breathe it in and too much steam can lead to intoxication.
The production of ethanol is very fossil energy intensive.
FER, which stands for Fossil Energy Ratio, is calculated at 1.5. So it takes 1 liter of fossil fuel to produce 1.5 liters of ethanol.
Participate in the transition to ethanol-free hand disinfection by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will help you to recycle existing ethanol stock, the rules for destroying old ethanol products and to reduce your CO2 footprint by phasing out ethanol and going alcohol-free.
University of Michigan, Center for Sustainable Systems
“The Fossil Energy Ratio (FER) is the ratio of energy output to nonrenewable energy inputs. Gasoline has a value of 0.8 (1.2 BTU of fossil fuel needed to supply 1 BTU of gas at the pump). Recent estimates have produced a FER of about 1.5 for ethanol.”
Use disinfectants safely. Always read the label and product information before use.
Biocider ska användas på ett säkert sätt. Läs alltid igenom etiketten och produktinformationen före användningen.