Gasoline engines have been around since the last century, but did you know that ethanol is a very competitive fuel?
Ethanol is made by fermenting and distilling corn or sugar cane. As more and more countries try to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, car manufacturers are looking for alternative fuel sources.
The biofuel is used in combination with gasoline with a 10-90% share.
In some countries, such as Brazil, the proportion is even higher at 85%. But, why would anyone use ethanol to run their car?
Reduction of greenhouse gases
The increasing preference for ethanol over gasoline is that ethanol leads to a reduction in greenhouse gases. Gasoline produces carbon dioxide as a by-product, which is harmful to the environment. However, many diesel-powered engines are involved in the production of ethanol.
Improvements in the production process lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. According to some studies, a car that runs on ethanol for a mile causes up to 30% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Reuse of existing fuel stations
Some people who are against the introduction of ethanol argue that the infrastructure is not sufficient to support ethanol. But the ethanol filling stations can use the existing filling stations. Warehouses and pipelines can easily be adapted to start using ethanol. In some parts of the US, there are ethanol filling stations that are already under development.
Multiple alternatives for ethanol production
Many people produce ethanol often by using corn or sugar cane, but there are many other reliable alternatives. Cellulose and plant fibers – which are readily available – can be used to produce cellulosic ethanol. There are many forms of plant fibers in the sea and on land.
The by-products of ethanol production can be reused in other products. Dried distillation grain can be used as a source of animal food. The carbon dioxide produced can be used in ice cream production and as a freezing agent.
Ethanol is energy balanced
Each unit of ethanol produces corresponding energy units. Some ethanol sources are extremely energy balanced. Corn in the USA produces 1.3 energy units for each unit used, while in Brazil studies have shown that it is possible to have more than 8 units for each unit of sugar cane.
Experiments with cellulose have shown that 36 energy units can be obtained for one unit of the product.
Poor ethanol infrastructure
The widespread use of ethanol as an energy source for cars is hampered by the lack of adequate infrastructure in areas that support ethanol production. In areas where ethanol is used, there is a lack of filling stations and this means that drivers continue to use petrol. The production process uses diesel-powered machines, which also emit greenhouse gases.
More capital investment is needed to improve ethanol production, especially in developing countries.
Ethanol is not as powerful as gasoline, and this means that you get a reduction in driving performance. It is estimated that the figure is 20 to 30 percent lower. In some countries – where ethanol is scarce – it is cheaper to fill your car with gasoline than with ethanol.
It is estimated that it takes 1.4 gallons to replace one gallon of gasoline in a car. This makes ethanol less efficient as a fuel. Most people who drive ethanol-powered vehicles have reported a 30 to 25% reduction in mileage when using ethanol compared to gasoline.
Fluctuating gasoline prices
Gasoline is subject to international fuel prices. These prices fluctuate greatly due to demand and sometimes political influence. The cost of petrol makes it expensive to run and operate cars with 100% petrol. Countries with large areas of corn in production tend to produce ethanol at a cheaper price than gasoline.
There is less price volatility for ethanol.
While it is true that ethanol can be distributed through the existing petrol infrastructure, there will be problems with the corrosive nature of ethanol. This is because ethanol absorbs water, causing pipes to rust. It can also contaminate the water, causing further engine problems.
Engineers would have to come up with some kind of insulation inside the pipes to prevent corrosion.
Large crop space required
You need a large area of land to produce sufficient quantities of ethanol to fuel cars in a country like the USA. Corn prices are volatile, which means you never know how much it will cost to produce a unit of ethanol. Land prices are high, and it will be expensive to use large hectares of land for corn production.
Animals eat corn, and that puts pressure on its use. The alternative would be widespread use of cellulose-based ethanol. A rise in ethanol prices will lead to farmers preferring its production. This will lead to more arable land. Governments will have to offer various subsidies to farmers to encourage corn production.
Corn production is subject to varying weather conditions. People use cars every day, and fuel production should not be seasonal. If pests affect corn production, ethanol production will decline.
How do you manufacture ethanol?
The first part of the production of ethanol is the cultivation of corn or sugar cane. This is harvested, and the raw products go through a fermentation process. Enzymes are added to the raw materials, which convert starch into sugar. The sugar is then distilled. During distillation, water is removed from the solution, leaving ethanol behind.
During distillation, however, the ethanol is not pure – about 85% – and dehydration must be carried out to increase its effectiveness.
During the dehydration process, cyclohexane and benzene are added to the solution to produce vapors and liquid. This also produces anhydrous ethanol and a vapor mixture of benzene, water, and cyclohexene. To increase the volatility of the ethanol, a ternary component is added.
Ethanol is often used as an alternative fuel to gasoline. The low greenhouse gas emissions are an additional benefit for the environment. However, much remains to be done to develop the infrastructure and create more arable land for growing corn.
Fluctuating petrol prices have led scientists to look for alternative fuel sources, and ethanol happens to be a good choice.