Ethanol's Conductivity – How Ethanol Conducts Electricity

Ethanol's conductivity refers to its ability to conduct heat or electricity. Conductivity is also differentiated based on what is being conducted. A substance’s ability to conduct heat is called thermal conductivity, whereas its ability to conduct electric current is called electrical conductivity.

Conductivity can be measured in terms of how strongly a material is able to conduct an electric current. Conductivity is represented by the Greek letter or symbol for sigma, but is also sometimes measured using the unit K.

The electricity conductivity of ethanol, however, is not the same as its thermal conductivity. Some substances, such as water and ethanol, are capable of heat transfer although they cannot transmit electricity. The thermal conductivity of ethanol is 0.171 W/m K at 300 K, while water has a thermal conductivity of 0.58 W/m K at a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius.

However, despite the fact that ethanol is now being used as an alternative fuel and its thermal conductivity, the question, “Is ethanol conductive?”, yields a confusing answer in electrical terms.

Is Ethanol Conductive Electrically?

In truth, ethanol, like other alcohols, conducts electricity rather poorly because it is a non-electrolyde. Ethanol itself contains practically no electrolytes besides those that form as an effect of auto-ionization; these electrolytes, however, are in so small a number that they’re virtually negligible.

Ethanol is also called a covalent compound because it does not contain ions that are necessary for electricity to be able to flow through a liquid or a solution. This means that electrical charge cannot be carried completely through ethanol. In sum, ethanol cannot conduct electricity.

A simple experiment, in which wires connected to a light bulb and a battery are placed into ethanol, can tell you whether ethanol can conduct electricity or not. In such an experiment, the bulb will not light up, which means that ethanol is not conductive. In other words, ethanol has zero electrical conductivity. The question now is, why is ethanol being used to run cars if it cannot conduct electrical current in the first place?

How Does Ethanol Conduct Electricity?

Ethanol is not the only non-conductive substance that can conduct electricity. Pure water is not a good conductor of electricity as well. However, when certain substances are mixed with water, the resulting solution can conduct electricity. The same thing applies to ethanol. When you mix ethanol with another substance that can conduct electricity quite well, the resulting mixture will be able to conduct electricity.

Thus, if you use pure ethanol in your car, it will not run. This is why ethanol fuel is a mixture of ethanol and gasoline – a powerful conductive agent.

Once ethanol is blended with gasoline, however, the result is a liquid conductive agent that can produce sufficient energy to run a vehicle.

Thus, ethanol fuel is often made up of a mixture of ethanol and gasoline, usually with a lower concentration of ethanol. The government has mandated the addition of at least 10% of ethanol to gasoline as a move to encourage the use of renewable fuels. Thus, ethanol fuel can be found in different blends, which are called E10, E20, E30, and so on, with the numbers indicating the percentage of ethanol present in the mixture. The highest concentration is E85; due to its unique nature, E85 ethanol blends require engines to be converted into flex fuel systems first before E85 can be safely used.