The Ethanol Papers - Paperturn manuscript - Flipbook - Page 118
It seems that many years ago some clever oil industry person must have
learned that ethanol (alcohol) is a hygroscopic substance and that the general
dictionary definition for a hygroscopic substance is that it can attract moisture
from its environment.
What the oil industry wag then did was to play a semantic word game by substituting the word "attract" with "absorb," and "air" for "environment." The
words attract and absorb are two different things, with two different meanings:
Attract - to pull to or draw toward oneself or itself (as a magnet attracts
Absorb - to take in and make part of an existent whole (as a sponge
And the words environment and air have different contexts:
Environment - the immediate adjacent surroundings (as in the type of
environment in which you live).
Air - the mixture of invisible odorless tasteless gases that surrounds the
How do we know that a semantic word game was played and that alcohol will
not absorb water right out of the thin or ambient air, simple: fill any open container halfway with alcohol and place it on your kitchen countertop. Allow it to
sit for one or more days. If alcohol absorbs water right out of the air, then when
you check the level of liquid in the ensuing days you would find that the volume
of liquid has increased. Try it and see what happens.
Incidentally, cotton is also a hygroscopic substance. So just as additional proof
that being a hygroscopic substance doesn't mean that it absorbs water right out
of the air, place a ball of cotton on the other side of your kitchen counter and
see if it gets saturated with water from just sitting out in the open. SPOILER
ALERT, the cotton ball will not get saturated with moisture. However, if you want
to see a hygroscopic substance in action, then place the cotton ball immediately
adjacent to some water, so that the cotton ball is in an environment that includes liquid water. The cotton ball "wicks" up the water. If you place a piece of
glass next to the water, instead of the cotton ball, the glass does not wick up
the water because glass is not a hygroscopic substance.