Like the more familiar aliphatic alcohols of methanol, propanol and butanol, propanol has the potential to be used as a liquid fuel due to the characteristics which allow usage in current engines. To replace fossil fuel derived gasoline, a liquid fuel must have a low flash point for ignition and energy content similar to gasoline. Propanol has an energy density that is higher than methanol and ethanol but lower than butanol and a flashpoint that is lower than butanol but higher than ethanol and methanol.
The two forms of propanol, 1 propanol and 2 propanol, are both synthesized from fossil fuels. 2 propanol is produced from hydration of propene which is extracted during oil refining. Production of 1 propanol is a more complicated process as two steps are required - catalytic hydroformylation of ethylene to produce propanal and then catalytic hydrogenation of the propanal.
2 propanol has received attention for use in direct 2 propanol fuel cells. These direct alcohol fuel cells are attractive as power sources mobile instruments such as laptops or cellular phones and perhaps, in time, for electric vehicles.
1 propanol is primarily used as a solvent in the pharmaceutical, paint and cosmetic industries. It is used as a carrier and extraction solvent for natural products and as a chemical intermediate in the manufacture of other chemicals.