Studies of the modes of adsorption and the associated changes in electronic structures of renewable organic compounds are needed in order to understand the fundamentals behind surface reactions of catalysts for future energies. Using planewave density functional theory (DFT) calculations, the adsorption of ethanol on perfect and O-defected TiO 2 rutile (110) surfaces was examined. On both surfaces the dissociative adsorption mode on five-fold coordinated Ti cations (Ti 4+ 5c) was found to be more favourable than the molecular adsorption mode. On the stoichiometric surface E ads was found to be equal to 0.85 eV for the ethoxide mode and equal to 0.76 eV for the molecular mode. These energies slightly increased when adsorption occurred on the Ti 4+ 5c closest to the O-defected site. However, both considerably increased when adsorption occurred at the removed bridging surface O; interacting with Ti 3+ cations. In this case the dissociative adsorption becomes strongly favoured (E ads = 1.28 eV for molecular adsorption and 2.27 eV for dissociative adsorption). Geometry and electronic structures of adsorbed ethanol were analysed in detail on the stoichiometric surface. Ethanol does not undergo major changes in its structure upon adsorption with its C-O bond rotating nearly freely on the surface. Bonding to surface Ti atoms is a σ type transfer from the O2p of the ethanol-ethoxide species. Both ethanol and ethoxide present potential hole traps on O lone pairs. Charge density and work function analyses also suggest charge transfer from the adsorbate to the surface, in which the dissociative adsorptions show a larger charge transfer than the molecular adsorption mode. This journal is © 2012 the Owner Societies.