elucidates on the possibilities of using ethanol as an alternative fuel in vehicles. The chemical composition, procedure of preparation and blending, as well as the pros and cons of using the substance are then examined. Ethanol is an alcohol-based organic compound produced by fermenting and distilling starch crops that have been converted into simple sugars. The feedstock or raw materials used in the preparation of this substance include corn, barley or wheat. Ethanol can also be produced from “cellulosic biomass” for instance corn stalks, rice straw, sugar cane bagasse, pulpwood, switch grass, and municipal solid waste. When prepared by using the starch called cellulose found in the plant cells, it is called Bioethanol. Ethanol is most commonly used to increase octane and improve the emission quality of gasoline.
ETHANOL AS AN ALTERNATIVE FUEL FOR VEHICLES
Ethanol also known as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol has an empirical formulae, EtOH. It is a colorless, clear liquid, soluble in aqueous or water-based solution and has a sweet flavor; but in high concentrations it gives a tingling or somewhat burning taste. Ethanol (CH3CH2OH as referred in chemical symbology) is made up of a combination of chemical compounds having molecules containing a hydroxyl group, -OH, bonded covalently to a carbon atom. The amendments made in the Clean Air Act 1990 authorized the selling of oxygenated fuel in areas with unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide. Since then, the demand for ethanol as oxygenate blended with gasoline has been ever increasing. Every year in the United States, approximately 2 billion gallons of ethanol is added to gasoline for increasing octane and improving the emission quality of gasoline (Alternative Fuels Data Center, 2005). The Energy Policy Act of 1992 mandates the blending of at least 85% of ethanol in gasoline to be used as an alternative fuel. Such a composition is industrially referred to as E85 which is a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. This formula is readily used in flexible fuel vehicles or FFVs that are being currently manufactured by most major auto manufacturers having capability of running on gasoline, E85 or any combination of the two. Also in some areas, ethanol is blended with a greater ratio of gasoline to form an E10 blend which comprises of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. Initially, the need of alternative fuel was gravely felt during the oil embargo of the 1970s; investors began to explore the possibilities of developing a homegrown treatment for the energy problem as two-thirds of the fuel was imported from the Middle East. Moreover environmental benefits of opting for ethanol as an alternate included reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions and also toxic emissions. In 2004, the required use of ethanol comprised of about 2 billion gallons of consumption while voluntary consumption (i.e. non-governmental) accounted for about one billion gallons of E-10.
Ethanol-blended fuels cut greenhouse gases from tailpipe emissions.
Climate Change connection, tailpipe emissions, June 2003, Climate Change connection retrieved online on October 26, 2005 at www.climatechangeconnection.org/
Any biological feedstocks that contain certain amounts of sugar or any material that can be converted into sugars such as cellulose and starch can be used to produce ethanol. Some examples could be sugar and sugar cane. Starch containing feedstocks such as corn can also be converted into sugar. A plant is significantly composed of a substance called cellulose which is a form of starch that can also be converted into sugar but with greater difficulty compared to the regular starch. The process of ethanol preparation sets off by grinding up the feedstock for better execution of the following preparation steps. After being ground, the sugars are either dissolved out of the material or starch or cellulose is converted into sugar. Sugar is then fed into microbes undergoing a chemical reaction producing ethanol and carbon dioxide in the process. Finally ethanol is distilled for purification and given the desired concentration. Another process of ethanol preparation is called “wet-milling” process. Large ethanol producers use this process; it also yields products such as high-fructose corn sweetener as a byproduct. Owing to limited crude oil supplies and refining capacity and a rising concern over environmental degradation, there is a good market potential for ethanol. Because of the wide variety of feedstocks ethanol offers great opportunity for economic growth and can help generate jobs outside traditional system.
There are many benefits of using ethanol as an alternative fuel. Most importantly the manageability of E85 is far easier than gasoline as it is less volatile. E85 fueling equipment is slightly different but costs almost the same as one used for storing and dispensing petroleum fuels. It is even possible to convert petroleum equipment into an E85. Moreover using E85 will reduce our overall use of petroleum consumption and replace it with a fuel produced or grown in the U.S. E85 also offers considerable environmental benefits. FFVs specifically designed for ethanol-based fuels are easily available, recommended and are affordable. Today E85 is sold at 60 stations in 16 states according to an Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet. (Robinson, 2004). Even though the overall mileage of E85 is also lower than that with gasoline, E85 also produces 40% less carbon monoxide than regular gas, 20% lesser particle emissions and toxics. Ethanol manufacturers say that greater energy is produced by using ethanol-based fuels than is consumed in the production of the same.
Fuel Ethanol Still With Lyne Arm
Fuel ethanol Still with Lyne arm, retrieved online on October 25, 2005 at www.distillery-yeast.com
With hiking prices of gasoline, President Bush has urged the Congress to encourage the scrutiny of alternate fuels to make United States less dependent on foreign oil. He said:
Our dependence on foreign oil is like a foreign tax on the American dream, and that tax is growing every year.” (Loven, 2005).
Moreover, a new research by a USDA economist reveals an improvement in the energy efficiency over the last five years. (Thompson, 2004); ethanol’s net energy balance has grown to an impressive number of 67 per cent. Such an improvement is due to growing awareness and advances made in the technological refinement in the manufacturing. The UDA economist, Hosein Shapouri says:
Crop yields per acre have increased, fertilizer is more energy efficient and ethanol plants are more efficient, so the net energy value of ethanol improves. And in India, a new molecular filtering technology is removing the last bit of water from ethanol for a much lower cost than the process we currently use.” (Thompson, 2004).
Hence analysts believe that the energy efficiency of ethanol will continue to improve due to greater crop yields and further improvements in ethanol production technology.
Ethanol Fuel Pump
Ethanol Fuel Pump, retrieved online on 25 October 2005 at www.msenergy.ms/
90 per cent of all ethanol consumed in the United States is produced from corn and 10 per cent from sugar. Brazil is the biggest producer of ethanol in the world. She produced half of this amount by using sugar crop. U.S. ethanol production has exceeded 3 billion gallons yearly; there are many incentives for potential investors in ethanol production available today as many of the newer plants are entering the business and forming limited liability companies (LLC). Feed stocks suppliers are also coming up with cooperative plans and collaborative efforts with an LLC.
Proximity to an adequate water supply and energy source are important for setting up an ethanol plant. Though most ethanol plants in the United States use natural gas, manufacturers are looking for alternative ways to power up.
The two Federal Ethanol Legislations passed are, Alternative Fuels Incentives And Laws and Energy Policy Act (Epact) Fleet information and Regulations. The former is related to purchasing fuel vehicles and the latter was passed by the Congress in 1992 in view of reducing our nation’s dependence on imported petroleum by requiring certain fleets to acquire fuel vehicles.(Alternative Fuels Data Center, 2004)
Alternative Fuels Data Center, 8 April 2005, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy retrieved online on 25 October 2005 at http://www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/altfuel/whatis_eth.html
What is ethanol?, 8 April 2005, U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy retrieved online on 25 October 2005 at http://www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/altfuel/whatis_eth.html
Jennifer Loven, May 17, 2005, Bush Promotes Ethanol As Alternative Fuel, Chicago Sun Times.
Stephen Thompson, Sept-Oct 2004, USDA study boosts fuel conversion efficiency rating for ethanol, Rural Cooperatives.
Elton Robinson, March 18, 2004, Ethanol Could Fuel Community Development and more, Southwest Farm Press.
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