Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/247

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
243
DENATURED ALCOHOL
DENATURED ALCOHOL
By Professor S. LAWRENCE BIGELOW
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

WIDESPREAD interest was aroused by the passage, last June, of an act of congress permitting the manufacture and sale of alcohol tax-free after January 1, 1907, provided it be rendered unfit to drink by the addition of substances imparting to it a repulsive odor and taste. Such alcohol is known as denaturalized, denaturized, or denatured alcohol, and the substances added are called denaturizing or denaturing agents, or more simply, denaturants. These are barbarous terms, almost as repulsive as the substances themselves. It is only fair to add that neither Professor Matthews nor President Roosevelt is responsible for these dislocations of our language. They are literal translations from German and French equivalents. True to its resolutions of reform, our government has adopted the simplest of these terms and recent publications refer to denatured alcohol and denaturants.

The cause of the general interest in the subject is twofold. Each individual in the community has reason to think that he may perhaps derive some benefit from this bill; that he will be able to use denatured alcohol in a way to increase his comforts or to diminish his running expenses. A smaller number see in the new article of commerce possibilities of profitable occupation or of profitable investment. It is my purpose to consider certain facts regarding denatured alcohol which have a bearing upon these expectations.

Alcohol, to the chemist, is a class name for a large number of different compounds, all of which have certain definite characteristics in common. The proper name for 'ordinary alcohol' sometimes called 'grain' alcohol, or 'spirits of wine,' constituting between 40 per cent, and 55 per cent, of the volume of whiskey, brandy and the other so-called spirituous liquors, 8 per cent, to 25 per cent, of the volume of wines, 3 per cent, to 8 per cent, of the volume of beers and ales, is ethyl alcohol. It contains only the elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Its chemical formula is C2H5OH and it is the only 'alcohol' which can be taken as a beverage, all others being much more poisonous. For instance, wood alcohol, the correct name for which is methyl alcohol, a substance about which we shall have frequent occasion to speak as it is to be one of the denaturants, is closely related to ethyl alcohol, containing the same elements only in slightly different pro-