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Bioethanol: The Golden Fuel

Aug 26, 2008
With governments like the U.S. backing the bioethanol industry, biomass crop productions are growing. If CO2 emissions can be cut in half by growing and manufacturing conventional farm crops like corn, then bioethanol stands a good chance of becoming the soup du jour from the alternative fuel menu. Yet there are other complications like food price inflation due to increased food scarcity resulting from food being diverted energy creation. Of course one must first decide if bioethanol is really worth it in terms of its "green claims."

What is it, and is it clean enough?

Bioethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, is a non-fossil, high octane fuel with lower emissions than gasoline. Made from renewable agricultural sources, it is a clean fuel for internal combustion engines. Hydrous ethanol contains water and can be used as a gasoline substitute, but requires a modified engine. Dehydrated ethanol can be used in proportions of 5% (E5) to 85% (E85). Most cars today can use E5, and Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) use E85. Both can be blended with conventional fuel.

It does take energy to produce it, and there are concerns related to the large amount of land needed for crops. Another concern is whether such biofuels release more carbon dioxide into the air than can be absorbed by growing plants. A better solution might be a process currently being developed in the U.S., whereby trash like waste paper is broken down into sugar and then converted into ethanol. This would by pass many of the ethical, environmental, and financial issues connected to bioethanol production.

How do they make it?

Bioethanol is obtained through a manufacturing process of fermenting biomass, which contains sugar and starch. Sugar cane is used in tropical areas, primarily wheat in Europe, and corn is produced in the U.S. and Brazil. Rectification and distillation processes turn the biomass into a concentrated form and removes by-products that are no needed in the fuel itself. The negative side of bioethanol as mentioned above is it's use of fertile land for food, which drives the food prices up and locks up usable land to grow more foodstuffs. There has all been great concern amongst certain environmental groups about the waste products left over from manufacturing bioethanol as evidenced in bioethonal pollution finding it's way in to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River. This of course provides a big argument from within the green fuel camp against bioethanol production and use. Despite it's negative aspects, when the issues have been worked like, which crop to use and where to grow it and of course what to do with the waste, bioethanol stands to be a very powerful clean fuel alternative. One hopes as the oil price continues to stay above 10 dollars that every means necessary is found to make bioethanol as efficient, clean, and financially attractive as possible.

Is your car a FFV?

Many FFV owners may not even know if their car is a FFV. Since most U.S. manufacturers, Japanese and European car manufacturers now produce FFVs, it may be worth checking to see if your car can use bioethanol - and where you can buy it.
About the Author
Andrew Beckers writes about information that is important to humanity. Learn more about bioethanol.
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