Ethanol: Alternative Gasoline Fuel

Ethanol is alternative gasoline fuel source of energy and alcohol based, produced by fermenting and distilling starch crops or agricultural products such as corn. Also, ethanol fuel can be produced from trees and grass (cellulosid biomass), referred to as bio-ethanol. During the production process these materials are converted into sugar such as starch or celllose. The sugar is feed to microorganisms, which produce ethanol and carbon dioxide. During the process, release of carbon dioxide is recycled by crops and ethanol produced. This creates a cycle, which greenhouse gases are used instead of being emitted into the environment. Department of Energy predicts ethanol (alternative fuel) could reduce America’s gasoline fuel consumption, by thirty percent in 2030. In Brazil, most new cars (three-quarters) use either ethanol or gasoline, which ever is cheaper to purchase. American Coalition of Ethanol is dedicated to use and production of ethanol. According to the coalition, United States ethanol industry will grow to provide more than five billion gallons of clean burning, and renewable fuel supply.

Ethanol contains high oxygen, which provides a cleaner and more efficient burning alternative fuel, besides renewable and domestically produced. The high oxygen content reduces carbon monoxide levels by 25 – 30 percent, according to United State Environment Protection Agency. When ethanol alternative fuel is used in vehicles or automobiles, will reduce carbon dioxide, a major component to global warming. Adding, ethanol to gasoline improves the engine starts in cold weather, and improves flame visibility in daylight. Also, ethanol is an octane enhancer, which can reduce emissions of cancer causing benzene and butadiene, by more than fifty percent. Richard Branson of Virgin Airways and Virgin Records investing $300 – $400 million in Virgin Fuels, over the next two to three years. The money will be invested into cellulosic and ethanol fuel plant technology. Takes approximately two years to build a conventional ethanol plant and 3 half years to build a cellosic plant.

Ethanol fuel can be blended with gasoline fuel in various amounts. Ten percent ethanol added to unleaded gasoline is available (E10) and all motor vehicles manufactured since 1970s, can run on E10 alternative fuel. Many local gas stations offer E10, as an alternative gasoline fuel. An alternative ethanol fuel blend consists of 85 percent ethanol, and 15 percent unleaded gasoline (E85). More than six million vehicles manufactured and on the road today are Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFV) or alternative fuel vehicles, able to run on E85. However, most cars do not have this compatibility. Flexible Fuel Vehicles include sedans, mini-vans, sport utilities, pickup trucks, Ford Taurus and General Motors announced by 2006, the Chevy Avalanche production. Also, Chrysler Group President Tom LaSorda said in April 2006, carmaker expected to sell about 250,000 flexible vehicles following year, and half a million by 2008. In spring of 2005, the Indy Racing League – home of the Indianapolis 500, announced by the year 2007, race – cars will be fueled with 100% ethanol fuel. Manufacturers of power equipment, motorcycles, snowmobiles and outboard motor, permit the use of ethanol blends in their products.

In E85 alternative gasoline fuel vehicles, ethanol lowers carbon monoxide by thirty percent and carbon dioxide by twenty-seven percent, thus lowering unhealthy emissions. Also, available is E95 fuel, which contains a higher concentration of ethanol. The Energy Policy Act of 1992, mandates certain fleets of vehicles have the capability to operate using at least E85 fuel, thus reducing the dependence on imported petroleum. Beginning of 2006, in the United States 17,000 service stations of which 587 stations (mostly in the Midwest) sell E85 fuel. Beginning of 2006, 33 ethanol plants are being built in the United States, and more than 100 ethanol plants have provided an alternative fuel production. One of the nation’s top ethanol producers is VeraSun Energy. There is a federal subsidy of 51 cents per gallon to provide incentive for ethanol producers. Currently (May 2006) ethanol average alternative fuel costs $1.20 a gallon, however tax rebate reduces refiner’s actual cost to approximately .70 cents per gallon. Consumers can contact the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition for the nearest station. Iowa is the leader in the use of ethanol-blended gasoline. In the first half 2006, expected ethanol fuel output will increase by 382 million gallons, and additional 672 million gallons before the end of the year, as more plants come online. According to President Bush Energy Policy Act, signed in 2005, oil refiners must use four billion gallons of ethanol a year and by 2012, increases to 7.5 billion gallons, as an alternative gasoline fuel.

Ethanol is not a perfect source for alternative energy. Ethanol fuel does corrode existing pipelines when mixed with gasoline. Currently, only viable method to transport ethanol fuel by trucks, trains, and barges, which adds to the cost of transportation, and creates a bottleneck situation, when arriving at terminals. Also, gasoline station owners will need to invest money to redesign their gas tanks to hold ethanol (E85), since current steel tanks would corrode containing ethanol. Some critics may argue, cost for producing corn – based (alternative fuel) ethanol is more than the savings incurred. When production of ethanol fuel is not sufficient for the demand, ethanol can be imported from Brazil (The world’s top producer of sugar based ethanol fuel), has used ethanol blends since 1939. However, having to pay 54 cents per gallon tariff, which adds to the cost, consumers must pay. Attributing to the demand of ethanol fuel, many states have stopped allowing methyl teritiary-butylether (MTBE) as an additive in gasoline, because it can contaminate ground water, and causes smog. Alternatively, replacing the additive with ethanol. MTBE additive composed about ten percent of every gallon of gasoline. Studies have shown, fuel-injected cars will have an approximate two percent decrease in fuel economy, when the vehicle operates on ethanol – blended fuel. Reported in April 2005, representatives of the energy industry told United States Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, unprecedented high demand for ethanol fuel, will cause the price of gasoline to increase coming summer. Guy Caruso, head of the US Energy Department’s of statistical division, estimates 130,000 barrels of extra ethanol will be needed by May 5, 2006, which is equal to almost 50 percent of current output, for this alternative source of gasoline.

During President Bush speech to the Renewable Fuels Association, on April 25, 2006, he recommended to the Environmental Protection Agency, offer temporary waivers to local fuel standards. This should help ethanol producers, by providing more time to increase production and resolve supply distribution problems. Major concerns is ethanol fuel transportation issues, keeping up with the demand, in response to oil refiners voluntarily removing the additive MTBE (methyl teritary-butyl ether) from their gasoline (linked to groundwater pollution), and replacing with ethanol. Refiners and gas station owners favor the changeover to ethanol fuel, because they don’t have the liability protection for MTBE pollution cleanups.

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