Growing up, when we kids got a scrape or cut, the playground advice was “Rub some dirt on it” to stop the blood. But then mom always had the hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol to clean it. Kids never thought much about disinfectants, other than they hurt.
I was first introduced to hand sanitizer when my son was born, nearly 15 years ago, and even at that time, I did not think much about where it came from or who produced it. It was just kinda like liquid soap in my mind.
Now, under the current environment, hand sanitizer, like toilet paper, is becoming more valuable than your $80 to $100 bottle of gin. If you think that’s an exaggeration, just look at the distilleries that are jumping in to divert the production of distilled spirits to produce hand sanitizer.
Last Friday, Pernod Ricard USA announced it was working with the U.S. government to divert production of some of its famed beverage alcohols to produce hand sanitizer for FEMA at some U.S.-based facilities.
Pernod Ricard USA, which makes Absolut Vodka, Avión Tequila, Kahlúa and other brands, has sites in Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Texas. The company said it will work with the government on plans for distribution of the hand sanitizer.
Other distillers have stepped up as well, including Anheuser-Busch and Lexington Brewery & Distilling (makers of Woodford Reserve).
The distilleries are following a recipe recommended by the World Health Organization, which calls for 60 percent alcohol content, a small amount of hydrogen peroxide, and some glycol. Many are using an aloe vera gel mixed with glycol/glycerin. The effort to quickly produce a large volume of hand sanitizer is leading to a run on alcohol feedstock, however.
Not all ethanol producers can make the beverage-grade ethanol required to produce hand sanitizer. In fact, those that do make it here and in Europe are nearing maximum capacity. The hope is those capable ethanol facilities will be able to devote grind to the production of 60- to 80-proof beverage-grade alcohol, shifting away from fuel-grade production. It won’t be seamless, though: Pricing for fuel-grade ethanol has sunk to nearly all-time lows, and many dry mill ethanol plants are shutting down as a result, which may complicate the flow of fuel ethanol to blenders to make finished gasoline.
For food and beverage manufacturers that use beverage-grade ethanol, pricing and availability are extremely tight. It is a good idea to discuss the situation with current supply sources to discover if they have plans to divert more grind to the production of hand sanitizer and give up some fuel ethanol sales to the dry milling industry.
The major beverage-grade producers of grain alcohol from corn are ADM, Tate & Lyle, and Grain Processing. Cargill does not produce this grade of ethanol in the U.S., only in Europe.