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Ethanol vs. Dimethyl Ether: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 10, 2024
Ethanol is a simple alcohol commonly used as a fuel and solvent, while dimethyl ether is an organic compound used as an aerosol propellant and a clean energy source.

Key Differences

Ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, has the chemical formula C2H5OH, comprising a hydroxyl group attached to an ethane backbone. Dimethyl ether, with the formula CH3OCH3, is an ether consisting of two methyl groups bonded through an oxygen atom.
Ethanol is a colorless liquid at room temperature with a distinctive odor and taste. Dimethyl ether is a colorless gas under standard conditions and is usually odorless.
Ethanol is widely used as a solvent, in alcoholic beverages, and as a renewable fuel. Dimethyl ether is used primarily as an aerosol propellant and is gaining attention as a clean alternative fuel for diesel engines.
Ethanol is typically produced through fermentation of sugars by yeasts or via petrochemical processes. Dimethyl ether can be produced from natural gas, coal, biomass, or as a byproduct of ethanol production.
Ethanol is considered a renewable resource with lower emissions than traditional fossil fuels. Dimethyl ether has a high cetane number and produces no soot when burned, but its production and storage require careful handling due to its high volatility.

Comparison Chart

Chemical Formula


Physical State

Colorless liquid
Colorless gas

Main Uses

Solvent, beverage alcohol, fuel
Aerosol propellant, alternative fuel

Production Methods

Fermentation of sugars, petrochemical processes
From natural gas, coal, biomass

Environmental and Safety

Renewable with lower emissions
High cetane, no soot, but requires careful handling

Ethanol and Dimethyl Ether Definitions


A volatile, flammable, colorless liquid alcohol.
Ethanol is commonly used in hand sanitizers for its antiseptic properties.

Dimethyl Ether

An organic compound with ether functional group.
Dimethyl ether is used as a non-chlorofluorocarbon propellant in aerosols.


An organic compound used as a biofuel.
Ethanol is blended with gasoline to create a more eco-friendly fuel.

Dimethyl Ether

Known for its high cetane number and no soot production.
The use of dimethyl ether in engines results in cleaner combustion.


The principal type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.
The intoxicating effects in beer are due to its ethanol content.

Dimethyl Ether

A colorless gas used as a clean fuel.
Dimethyl ether is being explored as a cleaner alternative to diesel.


A solvent in the pharmaceutical industry.
Ethanol is used to dissolve substances in the production of various medicines.

Dimethyl Ether

Can be synthesized from natural gas or biomass.
Production of dimethyl ether from biomass is a step towards sustainable energy.


Produced by fermentation of sugars.
Ethanol in wine is produced through the fermentation of grape sugars.

Dimethyl Ether

Used as a refrigerant due to its thermodynamic properties.
Dimethyl ether is utilized in refrigeration systems for its efficiency.


See alcohol.


(organic compound) A simple aliphatic alcohol formally derived from ethane by replacing one hydrogen atom with a hydroxyl group: CH3-CH2-OH.


Specifically, this alcohol as a fuel.


The organic compound C2H5.OH, the common alcohol which is the intoxicating agent in beer, wine, and other fermented and distilled liquors; called also ethyl alcohol. It is used pure or denatured as a solvent or in medicines and colognes and cleaning solutions, or mixed in gasoline as a fuel for automobiles, and as a rocket fuel (as in the V-2 rocket).


The intoxicating agent in fermented and distilled liquors; used pure or denatured as a solvent or in medicines and colognes and cleaning solutions and rocket fuel; proposed as a renewable clean-burning additive to gasoline


What is ethanol?

A simple alcohol used as a fuel, solvent, and in alcoholic beverages.

Is ethanol renewable?

Yes, when produced via fermentation of plant-based sugars.

What is dimethyl ether?

An organic compound used as an aerosol propellant and alternative fuel.

How is ethanol produced?

Through fermentation of sugars or petrochemical processes.

What are the main uses of dimethyl ether?

As an aerosol propellant and clean alternative fuel.

What makes dimethyl ether a clean fuel?

Its high cetane number and no soot production.

Can ethanol be used as a beverage?

Yes, it's the alcohol in alcoholic beverages.

Can dimethyl ether be produced from biomass?

Yes, it's a viable method for sustainable dimethyl ether production.

Is ethanol used in pharmaceuticals?

Yes, as a solvent and antiseptic.

What is the chemical formula of ethanol?


How is dimethyl ether stored?

In pressurized containers due to its gaseous state.

Does ethanol have intoxicating effects?

Yes, when consumed in alcoholic beverages.

What industries use dimethyl ether?

Automotive, refrigeration, and aerosol industries.

Is ethanol blending with gasoline common?

Yes, to create eco-friendlier fuel options.

What is the chemical formula of dimethyl ether?


What are the environmental benefits of ethanol?

Lower carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels.

What is a common source of ethanol?

Corn, sugarcane, and other sugar-rich plants.

What safety precautions are needed for dimethyl ether?

Proper handling and storage due to its flammability and volatility.

Is dimethyl ether a gas or liquid?

It's a gas under standard conditions.

Can dimethyl ether be used in diesel engines?

Yes, it's being explored as a diesel alternative.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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