Ethanol is made from plant sugars. In the United States, ethanol is most often made from corn and grain products through a fermentation and distillation process. The process is similar to the one used for making alcohol. Grain starches are mixed with water and fermented using heat and enzymes. The result is a fuel that is 85 to 95 percent pure.
Some farmers are adding ethanol production to their existing businesses, while others are designed strictly for creating ethanol. While grains are the primary source, some ethanol comes from wood waste, cheese whey, and other wastes from sucrose, potatoes, breweries, and other food and beverage wastes. Commercial production of ethanol creates most of the product, but it is possible for individuals to make their own ethanol.
Benefits of Ethanol
The benefits of ethanol are many. Because it is made from waste products, it helps reduce landfill waste. It also creates a use for waste that is otherwise not used. In addition, because it is biodegradable, does not create water pollution, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, it is a much more environmentally friendly fuel source.
Ethanol also helps reduce the dependence on other energy sources, as it is easily made domestically. Further, because it is made from plant sources, as opposed to fossil fuels, it is an easily renewable energy source. When ethanol is added to gasoline instead of additives, it helps reduce the burn rate of gasoline without the harmful side effects of traditional additives. This also reduces the amount of carbon dioxide created.
Whether or not you can use ethanol in your vehicle depends on the percentage of ethanol mixed with gasoline. Most vehicles manufactured after 1980 can use a gasoline/ethanol blend of 10% or less ethanol. Above this level, the vehicle must be specifically designed for its use or adapted to use ethanol.
Is Ethanol Efficient?
Studies show contradictory results regarding the ratio of energy used to create ethanol, and the energy saved by using ethanol. However, numerous reports state that ethanol is highly efficient, producing much more energy than what it takes to create the product. In addition, because it is made from waste products, farming businesses can add ethanol production to their existing business. Other commercial endeavors are in production to create ethanol from other waste products not directly related to farming, thereby offering a use for wastes that would otherwise go through waste management systems or into landfills.
Despite conflicting reports, the benefits of ethanol as a renewable energy source and one that can dramatically reduce waste and pollution will likely lead to ongoing research and use of the product.