Eli5 why is isopropyl alcohol so much cheaper than ethyl alcohol?


Eli5 why is isopropyl alcohol so much cheaper than ethyl alcohol?

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It’s not when you’re actually just buying the chemical.

But if you’re buying consumable ethyl alcohol to drink, then you’re paying a lot in government taxes for it, just like cigarettes or gasoline.

I believe that isopropyl alcohol is easier to make than ethanol, if I’m recalling what my organic chemistry professor told me correctly. I asked a similar question, except mine was “why is IPA so much more common that ethanol”, and I’m pretty sure the answer was its easier to make. IPA you can make by oxidizing vinyls, which are a cheap and plentiful reagent. If I’m recalling my organic chemistry reactions correctly, there is not a simple one or two step process for making ethanol from a cheap reagent.

It’s a combination between taxes and the fact that alcohol is a product with many different ingredients. Isopropyl alcohol is not drinkable at all, and as such it doesn’t matter who makes it or how it’s made. At the end of the day, it’s still isopropyl alcohol. Extra contents are frowned upon, since isopropyl alcohol is a medical supply, a cleaning product, and a chemical used in scientific experiments.

But, with alcohol you *can* drink, there’s a lot that goes into it and different or extra contents are often celebrated. Certain alcohols are aged for years in very specific barrels with very specific conditions, certain beers are crated with specific ingredients, certain tequilas need to be made with very specific types of Agave, some spirits can only be made in certain parts of the world, etc. There is a ton of craftsmanship that goes into creating alcohol you can drink. That’s where the majority of the cost difference comes from.

But, taxes also add a lot of cost. As always, governments want their cut, but alcohol is one of those products that includes an extra type of tax called an “Excise Tax”. An Excise Tax is a type of extra tax that is applied to a specific good or or service like gas, cigarettes, and of course alcohol. It’s just another way for governments to make money!

It’s not necessarily the case.

E85 ethanol (85%) is $2.39 a gallon in the US average:

That’s 64¢ a liter for metric users.

And that price includes taxes and fees for road vehicles.

It largely depends on how it’s packed, distributed, advertised, regulated, and taxed.

It’s not easy to get a liter/quart of isopropyl alcohol here for under $1.

It’s not easy to get a gallon (3.71 liters) for $2-$3.

Usually a small bottle of isopropyl is $2-$3.