The feedstock for ethanoic acid has changed several times over the past 100 years. It was originally made by air oxidation of ethanol produced by fermentation of biomass. By the 1950s, direct oxidation of butane or naphtha, derived from crude oil, became more economic.

This gave way largely to production from a cheaper feedstock, methanol and carbon monoxide from the 1970s onwards. Methanol is manufactured from synthesis gas (a mixture of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen), which itself is produced primarily from natural gas and oil.


Methanol can also be produced from biomass (wood); municipal wastes and sewage, and as methanol is also used as a petroleum fuel additive (up to 85%), there is considerable interest in some parts of the world in developing this route to help reduce dependence on imported oil. Pilot plants have been in operation since the mid 1990s.
diagram: methanol from biomass

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