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E85 Biofuel Myth Or Magic

May 31, 2008
E85 has been classified as an alternate fuel by the US Department of Energy to be used in your Flex Fuel Vehicle. Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFV) can run on normal gasoline or E85 Ethanol. E85 is the name designated for fuel that is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline and you may also hear it referred to as biofuel. It can be produced from many sources but mainly corn, potatoes, barley, and byproducts from the production of paper and food. Any one of these products can be distilled or fermented into a non-consumable alcohol called ethanol.

Proponents of E85 state that it's an excellent performing fuel that burns cleaner than gasoline and supports our very own domestic economy. In addition it's a completely renewable source of energy for your vehicle, all things this country needs at this time. Sounds pretty good, but let us not forget that there are two sides to every story. Opponents would argue that the amount of land needed to produce more sugar/starch/cellulose would be much greater than we use for those products today hence causing many other environmental problems such as soil erosion and water pollution. Also, since crops are being used for fuel it may drive prices up for our food. Some interesting arguments here but are they correct?

The Pros

We are looking at lessening our dependence on foreign oil by using ethanol. There are base sources all over the world that could be made available for the production of E85. At this time in the U.S., we use more than half the oil we import for our cars. There would be CO2 emissions (amounts still up for debate) during producing and consuming ethanol. During production those emitted gases could be reused in the growing of more crops as a nutrient. The amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere while using biofuel would be equal to the amount that plants consume to grow and produce ethanol. When introduced into water ethanol degrades at a quick pace, which in the event of an accident, such as a spill, would eliminate the hazard to the environment much faster than a similar spill with gasoline or oil. The amount of damage and cost of cleanup from a catastrophic spill of Valdez caliber would be far less than we have grown accustomed to in the past. You might read that due to production equipment to harvest and create ethanol that the emissions from that equipment outweigh the "green" effect of ethanol. A study by UC Berkeley states that even after all involved with production ethanol nets a "positive net energy balance". We can also consider the option of biofuels going full circle. With the implementation of E85, the equipment used to harvest and produce biofuels could themselves be powered by biofuels. After an adjustment period the whole process from harvesting to burning ethanol would become much greener than what is in place now for the production of gasoline, from welling to processing. This source of energy for automobiles would be renewable, meaning after you harvest a field of corn to prepare and produce ethanol you could replant the same field to create more ethanol, the polar opposite to drying out an existing oil field.

The Cons

We must remember supply and demand. If we can use our farm land to create fuel for our cars, available farm land would disappear quickly and we would experience environmental issues such as erosion from growing crops. Currently we have regulations on what fertilizers and hormones can be used to grow the crops we eat, but will the same regulations be in place if they aren't being ingested by the consumer? The problem is that great amounts these chemicals would be harmful to our environment by polluting our air and water. I'm sure we all remember some of the pesticide/herbicide scares we have had in previous years. Now let's consider what your average farmer would think, what will make more money for him/her? What would be in higher demand, crops for food or crops for fuel? If it's fuel then what would happen to our food prices? Would they go through the roof if a farmer could make more money producing fuel? The possibility is that food prices for farm grown products could raise drastically. Now we are faced with looking at being able to efficiently use ethanol. Ethanol can't be stored or pumped the same way gasoline is. So in order to make it available to the general public your local service stations would have to install new tanks and pumps. The cost of this would be astronomical, and likely take many years to fully integrate. Remember what happened to electric vehicle charging stations? I rarely saw them even at the height of the craze when the technology was making a big push, and before you know it, hybrids took over.

In conclusion it really doesn't matter how you slice it there are some good arguments on both sides concerning the production and use of ethanol/E85/biofuel to power the vehicles we drive every day. As far as I'm concerned people are dedicating themselves one way or the other to quickly to the implementation and use of biofuel. The idea is still up to much study, debate, and research to be able to decide whether E85 will prove advantageous or not. The future holds the answer, but the correct answer is still undetermined.
About the Author
Tony R. is an editor at the Hybrid Jungle, a hybrid car community with articles, news, gallery and wiki. He also contributes to the hybrid car forum at the Hybrid Jungle.
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