Ethanol as Alternative Fuel: What it Is, What it Means to You, How to Make Your Own

Recently, investors are campaigning to use more alternative fuels. One is ethanol, a gas additive. This article describes what ethanol is, how it is used, and how you can make your own.

Ethanol is a grain alcohol made from starchy plant materials, notably corn and sugarcane, but including switchgrass and apples. The process for making it is similar to distilling whiskey: a mash is made, cooked, fermented, distilled from the solids, and then dehydrated to make the alcohol pure. Producers add a poison to make sure that we don’t drink the stuff, and then send it to market.

It can be added to any unleaded gasoline as 10% ethanol and 90% unleaded gasoline. It can be added at 85% of a mix with gasoline if the vehicle you are driving is E85 ready (the 10% mix is called E10). Your car will called be a Flexible Fuels Vehicle (FFV) if it can run on E85. You may see on your local gas pumps a sign stating that ethanol is added to the gas at E10.

Ethanol is coming into conversation now, even though alcohol was used as an automotive fuel by the Model T Ford, because of the price of gasoline. Ethanol is cheaper to produce and is a renewable energy source. The United States is starting to look at ethanol, but Brazil has been using 90% ethanol with 10% gasoline to wean its consumers off of imported oil. More than 70% of Brazil’s cars are flex-fuel (see source 1). Brazil exports half the world’s sugar (see source 2), which is converted to ethanol more easily than corn, and also has its own oil reserves.

Recent attention to ethanol as a fuel additive doubled the price to $2.75 on May 11, 2006 (see source 3). Companies in the U.S. which produce ethanol do get a tax break and do get a subsidy. Recently, President George Bush urged Congress to lift the tariff on ethanol imports as well, allowing more ethanol to be imported from Brazil.

If your gas station does not use ethanol in its fuel, or does not give you the price break you deserve when it does, then consider making your own. You can buy a DIY kit for making your own ethanol from Dogwood Energy in Tennessee. You will need a permit and you will need to promise to add poison to the mix as well to keep from drinking the product. The company states that it costs about 75 cents per gallon to make your own ethanol (see source 4), and a bushel of corn will yield 2.6 gallons. You can buy the blueprint to make a still for $45 or the whole kit for $1,400. The website is

If that idea intrigues you, then also consider switching to a flexible fuel car (FFV). The U.S. Department of Energy lists these vehicles as fuel flexible: Chrysler Sebring Convertible FFV, Chrysler Sebring 4-door FFV, Ford Crown Victoria FFV, Ford Taurus FFV, Mercury Grand Marquis FFV, Chevrolet Silverado Ram 1500 Pickup 2WD FFV, Chevrolet K1500 Silverado 4WD FFV, Dodge Ram 1500 Pickup 4WD FFV, GMC K1500 Sierra 4WD FFV, Nissan Titan 4WD FFV, Dodge Caravan 2WD FFV, Chevrolet C1500 Avalanche 2WD FFV, Chevrolet C1500 Suburban 2WD FFV, Chevrolet C1500 Tahoe 2WD FFV, Dodge Durango 2WD or 4WD FFV, GMC Yukon 2WD or 4WD FFV or the C1500 Yukon XL 2WD FFV, and the Chevrolet K1500 Avalanche 4WD FFV or the K1500 Suburban 4WD FFV or the K1500 Tahoe 4WD FFV.

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