Ethanol As An Alternative Fuel

Ethanol is a type of alcohol that has been converted to allow it to become a source of fuel for vehicles.

In development for many years, ethanol is probably the most famous alternative fuel in the world today.

Since it is made most of the time with corn, ethanol is also known as grain alcohol. The ethanol we get from corn is a result of converting the starch in corn into sugars and then into alcohol in a process of fermenting. The use of ethanol as an alternative fuel is a great way to help the environment as well as the farmers.

During the energy crisis of the 70s and 80s, there was a product referred to as "Gasohol" that was about 10% ethanol or E10. Gasoline engines needed minor modifications to run on E10 because the ethanol tended to degrade seals and fuel hoses. Modern gasoline engines are now set up to run E10. In Iowa, about 60% of the gasoline sold is E10. It is actually the least expensive gasoline grade because the ethanol is subsidized to make it so.

There is an alternative fuel ethanol product currently on the market called E85. E85 consists of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent alcohol.

Many automobiles today can operate using E85 fuel and although it is not completely safe for the enviroment, E85 is still a very viable alternative fuel. To use higher percentages like E85, engines need appropriate seals, hoses and engine settings like timing, etc.. Vehicles set up to run E85 have been selling for a number of years and are sold as "Flex Fuel" vehicles (FFV). Such vehicles have a fuel sensor in the fuel line to monitor the mix of gasoline and ethanol present and adjust the engine appropriately for the fuel being used.

Compared with gasoline-fueled vehicles, most ethanol-fueled vehicles produce lower carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions and the same or lower levels of hydrocarbon and non-methane hydrocarbon emissions. Oxides of nitrogen emissions are about the same for ethanol and gasoline vehicles. E85 has fewer highly volatile components than gasoline and so has fewer evaporative

Brazil is the largest producer of ethanol in the world today. The ethanol Brazil produces is made from sugar cane. In California, projects are now operating to convert some of the agricultural waste such as rice straw into ethanol. Rice straw is currently burned in the fields. It is estimated that as much as a third of the waste from our fields could be made into ethanol without harming the soil. Using ethanol as an alternative fuel has come a very long way from the preliminary stages into reality.

It is believed that it takes more energy to make ethanol than what it gives back and for the most part, this is true. However, new technologies have been developed to increase the efficiency of the ethanol production process. Corn ethanol today is made by converting the starch in corn to sugars and then into alcohol in a process of fermenting. A company in Canada has invented a process for converting agricultural waste such as corn stalks, husks,
and other cellulose rich plant waste like straw into ethanol by using enzymes. This process may raise the energy balance of ethanol to as high as 1:7, although there are no details related to a study of the effectiveness of this process. If waste agricultural products are used, then the energy for planting and harvesting have already been taken into account, allowing ethanol from waste to have avery favorable energy balance.

As an alternative fuel, ethanol is only a part of the trend toward using alternative fuels. Many other alternative fuels are being developed. The reality is that ethanol is the most promising of the all. Over the next few years, ethanol will be developed by leaps and bounds. Ethanol may very well be THE alternative fuel to use in the future.

Richard Lee is a recognized expert on the subjects of environmental and energy conservation and has written many books about them. Visit his website to get more information and signup for a FREE 7-day ecourse and EBook at




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