Forum > Engineers and Environment > Alternate fuel-Ethanol 101

Posted by Susan Sharma on June 15, 2006

 

Ethanol is a renewable fuel distilled mainly from corn. In the near future, ethanol may also be produced using agricultural and wood waste, of which there is an abundant supply for both in agricultural states and counties throughout the U.S. and beyond.

Because of its comparatively high oxygen content, ethanol is cleaner burning than regular unleaded gasoline and can be blended to 10 percent without having to modify standard engines. A 10 percent blend also substantially reduces carbon monoxide, hydrocarbon, benzene and other exhaust emissions as well as related greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

Before we can celebrate ethanol as a viable alternative to petroleum, one simple fact must be considered: producing ethanol requires more fossil fuel energy than the petroleum it would replace. This result was confirmed researchers at Cornell University and the University of California. The reason? It takes a lot of energy to grow crops and transform them into ethanol.

Regardless, ethanol has a lot of political support, and despite building evidence to the contrary, the U.S. Department of Agriculture believes that ethanol delivers more energy than is consumed in making it.

Sources: American Coalition for Ethanol, Growing Expectations, and Cornell University News Service.

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