What is Ethanol?

Ethanol is a renewable naturally oxygenated fuel produced by fermenting organic materials known as “biomass” like that of corn, grains, crop waste materials, and forestry waste materials. Biomass is grown, collected, and transported to a facility where it is converted to ethanol. Then the fuel is transported to a fuel terminal where it is blended with gasoline and distributed to fueling stations. It is a colorless liquid and is usually blended with gasoline at different levels to create E10, E15, and E85. In the US more than 98 percent of gasoline contains some ethanol.

Types of Ethanol

E10 is a premium high-octane gasoline for cars and E85 (85% ethanol 15% gasoline) is used as an alternative fuel for light-duty vehicles. E10 can be used in any gasoline vehicle without modification. E85, however, offers a higher octane rating and must be used in specified vehicles. All major domestic automakers offer E85 compatible vehicles, or flexfuel vehicles (FFVs), at prices comparable to gasoline vehicles. Applications for E85 include non-diesel fleet vehicles, buses, light-duty vehicles and delivery trucks.

Advantages of Ethanol

Ecologically Friendly

Ethanol is a non toxic alcohol that burns cleanly, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 59 percent. The carbon dioxide released when it is burned is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by the biomass when it is growing for ethanol production.

Energy Independence

The import of gasoline reduces energy security, but with the contribution of ethanol in 2019 only 3% of the consumed fuel in the US was imported. This number would have been much higher without the contribution of ethanol. The fuel also has a higher octane number than gasoline which increases its performance and power.

Economic Benefits

This fuel in particular engages the rural audience and allows for the creation of jobs ultimately contributing to the economy. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, ethanol production in 2019 accounted for more than 68,600 jobs throughout the country.

Considerations

High percentages of ethanol lead to lower energy content than gas which lowers the vehicle’s fuel economy. If engines were to be optimized for the level of ethanol desired then the fuel economy would increase, but unfortunately engines are optimized to a different level currently.


Further Resources

The DOE offers an in depth analysis of alternative fuel sources. View information regarding ethanol below.

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