Ethanol is a type of alcohol created by fermentation of sugars and starches from corn, sugar cane, soy beans and even certain grasses and trees, known as cellulosic ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol is derived from the stalks and stems of these grasses and trees. While it’s not recommended as a beverage like other alcohol, ethanol can possibly sustain America as a replacement for standard fossil fuels. In fact, Brazil already runs on ethanol made from sugar cane. Their country has more sugar cane that it can consume and export, so they made the logical decision to use it as a renewable source of fuel. In America some gas stations already mix between 10% and 85% ethanol with standard gasoline. The 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline mixture is known as E85. Many newer car models are capable of running on this. Experts report that 420 gallons of ethanol can be produced from 1 acre of crops, and with nearly 300 ethanol plants currently in operation or in the making, it’s easy to see this booming industry becoming more popular in the near future. Ethanol is not necessarily going to save the world either, as there are both pros and cons to its use.
Unlike gasoline, ethanol and biodiesel can be converted directly into usable, burnable fuel. It also puts out far less harmful emissions, by giving off carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, rather than methane, carbon monoxide and other harmful emissions that can release greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases being released help exacerbate global warming. Additionally, ethanol is a renewable resource, unlike its gasoline counterpart. By running cars and other automobiles off of ethanol, we won’t be so reliant on importing expensive oil from other countries – especially countries we aren’t particularly friends with. The money saved from purchasing foreign oil could be put to better use on such things as the public school system, creating more jobs or nearly anything you can think of. This in turn, will generate more jobs in America, allowing our economy to grow while becoming more independent as a nation. Ethanol also cleans the fuel system of the car as it runs, therefore increasing overall engine performance. This also helps with the longevity of the particular vehicle’s life. Since it’s grown organically, ethanol is also biodegradable. In creating ethanol, only 1.5 units of energy are provided for every unit used in production. Comparatively, gasoline uses 20% of what it’s able to provide. As we’re all probably well aware, gasoline prices are also sky high and seem to be continually rising. Ethanol would remain a relatively consistent and affordable price.
On the other side of the spectrum is the argument that ethanol is simply not all that it’s cracked up to be. It still has some smog emissions, because some types of ethanol use animal fat, vegetable oil and grease as an additive (although the emissions are not nearly as much as gasoline). Opponents of biofuels also argue that way too much land would be required to sustain farms used for the production of ethanol. These could possibly encroach upon forests and wildlife habitat. Statistics even show that if every car in the United States ran off of ethanol, the land required to grow crops to produce it would cover 97% of the country. To break it down a bit, it would take 11 acres of land to grow enough crops to produce enough biofuel to run the average American car for 1 year; and that’s mixed with standard gasoline. Opponents also argue that it will inflate the price of corn. It’s also though that in an all-ethanol world, the price at the pump would be fairly expensive.
Is ethanol and biodiesel really the key to the future of fuel? There certainly seems to be quite a bit of information showing that it is better than standard gasoline, but there are also quite a few concerns and issues that need to be addressed and dealt with before a decision is made.